The Cloisters, Manhattan

Rockefeller wanted the objects to speak for themselves in harmonious surroundings that were not subject to modern whims or fashions. The Cloisters has been described: “as a structure… integrated with its monuments and objects, the reciprocal relationship being fundamental to the whole.”*

The Cloisters display up to 5,000 art works. If you can get to this gem in uptown Manhattan, you won’t be disappointed. If you cannot get there, here’s a tour of the highlights. Enjoy!

Picturesque doorway ~ History, restored

The Nativity tapestry (1500-1520) hangs by the doors leading to The Late Gothic Hall.

This 27 by 13 foot artwork was vandalized prior to its acquisition by The Cloisters in 1938. In 1967, the Department of Textile Conservation identified that the tapestry had been cut into four irregular pieces and badly stitched back together.

This prompted its laborious restoration. Conservators Alice Blohm and Tina Kane led the meticulous conservation process from 1973 to 2009. The team restored missing yarns, weaved holes together, and reconstructed missing areas.

A 12th Century Canvased Camel

The camel seems to have been associated with the lands of the Bible. But also with power, luxury, and the exotic ~ The Cloisters

The Fuentiduena Chapel

The cavernous Romanesque chapel features a barrel vaulted ceiling, and is filled with grand paintings and sculptures.

More than three thousand limestone blocks, lent to The Cloisters by the Spanish government in 1957, constitute the twelfth-century apse that dominates this gallery…

The interior of the half dome is decorated with a Catalan fresco depicting the Virgin and Child in Majesty and the Adoration of the Magi from the church of the Virgin near Tredòs, and a magnificent twelfth-century painted Spanish wood crucifix hangs from the arch. ~ The Met Museum

Splash of Colour

India and China introduced bitter and sweet oranges to Europe from Asia, with bitter preceding sweet by five centuries.

In the 12th century, The Chapter House was a meeting space. Fast forward 900 years, and it was a stable.

Whenever any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon.” So Saint Benedict began “Chapter 3 of his Rule for Monasteries.” ~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wooden benches line The Chapter House, whose stone pillars, decorated with rose and pine cone carvings, support a rib-vaulted ceiling. The space is infused with soft light thanks to the arched windows along one side.

The West Terrace overlooks the highest point of Manhattan, providing a great view of the Hudson River, the New Jersey Palisades, and the George Washington Bridge.

The Merode Room, named for the Merode Altarpiece, displays art used in private devotion.

Columns, such as the one below, were used as decoration in the Benedictine abbey of Notre-Dame de la Grande Sauve. Can you see the leaf motifs?

The surronding gardens are waiting for spring, but the flowers adorning the Unicorn Tapestries are always abloom. Its millefleurs (millions of flowers) reflect the museum’s Trie Cloister Garden.

Traditionally known as The Hunt of the Unicorn, these tapestries were woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk, and include the depiction of 101 species of plants, of which over 85 have been identified. The vibrant colors still evident today were produced with three dye plants: weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue). ~ The Met Museum

Note: the landscape woven into Middle Ages tapestries was also used to evoke ambiance and emotion.

The pomegranate tree, featured in several of the tapestries, symbolized the chastity of the Virgin Mary, the union of faith, and peace. The fruit’s red juice represented Christ’s blood, and redemption in a paradise garden. ~ Corey Eilhardt, The Cloisters

As light shines through 14th Century Austrian stained glass windows, The Gothic Chapel’s tomb effigies come alive under splashes of colour.

A doorway looking into Langon Chapel.

The uneven driveway is made of original Belgian blocks from old New York streets.

*Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1974, Number 4, LP-0835

More Information: The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation.

48 thoughts on “The Cloisters, Manhattan

  1. Your interior photographs are excellent. I really like the image of the tapestry through the doorway (first image). You achieve very good lighting and texture in the other interiors.

    • Thanks Joanne, I appreciate that alot. Sometimes the shots I like best are the ones that aren’t anticipated. The lighting was tough in The Cloisters; very dark and I didn’t have my tripod. I am glad you enjoyed them.

  2. Marina, I’m going to have a list entitled “Marina’s New York Sights” that I should be sure to visit the next time I’m in NYC. Who needs a travel book like Frommers when I have your blog.

    daisy

    • Ultimate compliment – I’d love to be the author of your travel guide! I think that guide books get outdated so easily these days, though they are a great source of information for the iconic landmarks. Thanks so much for your cool comment!

  3. This really is an amazing place and you’ve done it justice Marina. The architecture is beautiful and brilliantly captured. Despite technically challenging situations your interior shots are superb. The tapestry through the doorway is a favourite,I really wanted to go through it. The orange tree between the arches is a lovely compostion and I also particularly like the doorway looking into the Langon Chapel. Really very well done and a great conclusion to a fascinating series. It’s tragic that so many people will visit New York and never know about this place. Fewer now though, thanks to your blog. The Cloisters will certainly be on my itinerary if I ever get to visit.🙂

    • Thank you Adrian, I am so grateful that you think I have done The Cloisters justice. It was tough getting the details in the darker lit corners though I enjoyed the space so much at the time, that it didn’t really bother me! I hope you’ll make it to NY – when you do, let me know! The doorways at The Cloisters were really beautiful. I think there’s a whole blog post in that but I’ll let visitors discover that for themselves!

  4. ever since I first read your title, I have been humming the ledendary song! and then as I looked at your fantastic images, I could understand why it was your favourite place…it seems like a cosy place with loads of history tucked in every nip and corner of the place. Especially loved the cobbled way!

    • When I read your comment, I started humming the tune too! That cobbled way was not that easy to navigate sans heels! But I love it too – especially knowing that the stones uses were from NY streets! Thank you!

  5. I see why these are your favourites! These images are just gorgeous Marina.
    What an amazing place, again very meditative and instilling a sense of peace.
    The first image reminds me of a painting. Fantastic!

    • Thank you Karen – I hope you may visit it on a trip to NY. I know you’ll love The Cloisters. Tapestries have been likened to paintings, especially with the process employed to restore/conserve them. I appreciate that!

    • Thanks so much fotomind! The orange trees near the Cuxa Cloister were really lovely to be around. I appreciate your comments, especially about the narration, and am glad to share. Thanks for taking a look🙂

  6. What a beautiful piece of architecture! I love all of the stone and the gorgeous arches everywhere. My favorite image is the one of doorway looking into the Langon Chapel. Beautiful…and the black and white just makes it even more striking!

  7. Another great post🙂 Fabulous pictures, Marina🙂 I love the stained glass; it always looks so pretty in such grand building like these!🙂 I’d love to have a walk through the Abbey; I bet you can feel the presents of the past flying around🙂

    • Thanks Kristina! I appreciate you saying that about the images as it was a little dark sometimes but so fun to photograph regardless! It did feel quite serene in the building – it’s unlike anything I have seen. Hope you get to see it soon to experience it!

  8. WOW! Never thought that there would be middle-age-y museum in such a modern and vibrant city. This is simply astonishing! Honestly, if you didn’t make this Cloister post, I’d think that none of these stuffs exist in Manhattan. Thanks for this mind-opening post🙂 I always love learning something new from each of your posts.

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