The Cloisters, New York City

It pains me to admit that until just a few years ago I was not even aware of the existence of Met Cloisters. Its comparatively remote location near the northern tip of Manhattan island played a role in my never being able to set aside time for a visit. Only this past Sunday, my lovely wife finally pushed the stars into alignment to make a trip to the Cloisters possible.
Cloisters, New York City
In certain sense, I could hardly expect to be impressed by the NYC landmark. After all, I have been to many cathedrals and monasteries around Europe and explored a significant number of cloisters (here is a recent entry featuring one). A museum built less than a hundred years ago with the aim of reconstructing the feeling of monastic life would not compare to a real thing, would it?

I suppose it is all in the eye of the beholder. If you are after centuries-old authenticity, you may appreciate the fact that reconstructions used real materials from real historic places but you may still feel the place is artificial. Conversely, if you enjoy the attention to recreated detail and the variety of exhibits, some of which date to Ancient Roman times, you will find the place simply delightful.

The term “cloister”, although colloqially used as a synonym to “monastery”, is technically an architectural feature consisting of covered walkways that usually enclose or adjoin a garden. Normally, a cathedral or a convent would have one cloister. The museum has four of them, hence the plural noun in its name. Each of the cloisters is named after its principal historic source, an abandoned monastery or abbey somewhere in France.

Bonnefont cloister comes from a Cistercian abbey in the French region of Midi-Pyrénées.
Cloisters, New York City
The wellhead, in use since the 12th century, sits at the center of the garden, surrounded by trees with grotesquely curved branches.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
The medieval herb garden grows various plants and fruits, including some marked as dangerous.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
Cuxa cloister is the centerpiece of the museum. It comes from the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in the northeast French Pyrenees, which was founded in 9th century and functioned for nearly 900 years.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
The pink marble column capitals are each unique in its design.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
This vailted room adjoining Cuxa cloister is called Pontaut Chapter House.
Cloisters, New York City
As with many reconstructions in the museum, its stonework comes from a neglected French church that dates back to the 12th century.

Saint-Guilhem cloister looks the newest and most sterile of the bunch, although some of the pieces used in its reconstruction belong to a building founded in 804, at the site of the later Benedictine monastery of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. Majority of stonework is from later dates in the 17th century.
Cloisters, New York City
The columns are different here but no less exquisite in their individuality.
Cloisters, New York City
The cloisters are connected by a series of impressive spaces, chapels and exhibition rooms. Here is a view of Fuentidueña Apse, a semicircular Romanesque apse dated from the end of the 12th century, originally part of the San Martín church at Fuentidueña in Segovia.
Cloisters, New York City
The collection at the Cloisters contains thousands of European medieval works of art, including tapestries, altarpieces, frescoes, stained glass, manuscripts, porcelain statuettes, reliquarys, wood sculptures, boxwood Rosary beads, illuminated manuscripts, etc.

Here are examples of stained glass, both in its more traditional form in the Gothic Chapel as well as vignettes in the Glass Gallery.
Cloisters, New York City

Cloisters, New York City  Cloisters, New York City

In the Unicorn Tapestries Room this fantastic fireplace anchors the display.
Cloisters, New York City
And here is one of the series of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, end of the 15th century.
Cloisters, New York City
This ornate candle-holder in the Boppard Room holds a suitably massive candle.
Cloisters, New York City
Also in the Boppard Room, the three head reliquarys look at the visitors with slightly disconcerting expressions. Probably fitting for something that is meant to contain the pieces of a saint’s skull.
Cloisters, New York City
A medieval reflector lamp.
Cloisters, New York City
Animal decorations on the walls, both fantastic and real.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
A couple of examples of the items displayed in the Treasury. The first one sports an angled mirror so that you can see the golden engraving on its bottom.
Cloisters, New York City
Cloisters, New York City
An aficionado of medieval arts and architecture can probably spend three to four hours perusing the collection, to say nothing of lingering at the cloistered gardens. The location may make this museum a less popular destination compared to other museums in the city, but the visit here is very worthwhile.
Cloisters, New York City

4 comments on “The Cloisters, New York City”

  1. HistoryDave

    One of my closest friends loved the Cloisters when she lived in NYC – it was her refuge from the hectic pace of her life. I never did get to visit it with her – she moved away a long time ago and has passed away now – but I enjoyed the tour here. Thanks for letting me spend some time with a friend long gone.

  2. Carolyn

    As you say, the location of the place, never mind the lack of parking, make The Cloisters a difficult choice for a weekend’s journey. Consequently, although I was born and raised in NY (and I write medieval historical fiction), I’ve only been there twice, and once was during the Medieval faire, which was wonderful. Your pictures and narrative gave me a visit from my armchair, so to speak, and I loved the experience. Thank you so much for this lovely page.

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