The MET Cloisters – New York
A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, The Cloisters is museum of medieval art and architecture housed in an historical building complex located in Upper Manhattan.
History and building
The Cloisters is arguably one of the most peculiar museums in the world; it is quite surprising indeed to being able to make a journey though European medieval architecture while in New York City.
The Cloisters opened to the public in 1938. The museum contains and displays part of the collection of European medieval art, architecture, and decorative arts of the MET.
The core of the MET’s collection of medieval art is based on donations made in the first half of the 20th century by wealthy New Yorkers, including J. Pierpont Morgan, and George Blumenthal; a large part of the sculpture collection was amassed in the early 20th century by American artists and art dealer George Grey Barnard; and then purchased and donated to the MET by John D. Rockefeller.
Rockefeller was indeed the man who promoted the creation of a museum exclusively dedicated to European art of the Middle Ages in New York; for this purpose, in 1925, he provided funds and a seven-hundred-acre plot of land along the Hudson river in northern Manhattan.
The building for the new museum was designed by architect Charles Collens, who incorporated in a medieval-style construction various original architectural portions of French abbeys, hence the name The Cloisters.
The building includes parts from the cloisters of the Romanesque and Gothic monasteries of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Trie-sur-Baïse, and Froville, as well as portions and architectural elements from the abbey of Bonnefont-en-Comminges, which were all disassembled, moved to the United States by ship, and re-assembled in New York. Collens also recreated medieval-like gardens in three of the cloisters, whose design and choice of plants were based on an accurate study made on original medieval documents and botanic manuals.
Along with four cloisters, the building includes three chapels and a large Romanesque hall, which also incorporate architectural fragments from French and Spanish churches.
Aerial view of The MET Cloisters in Upper Manhattan; photo by AJP79
The MET Cloisters’ tower; the design of the tower is inspired by that the bell tower of the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in southern France; photo: Susan S
Collection, permanent exhibition, and program of events
The MET Cloisters accommodates a 500-piece collection of Byzantine and European medieval art which includes paintings, sculptures, religious objects and altarpieces, illuminated manuscripts, textiles and tapestries, crockery, silverware, decorative glass objects, stained glass windows, coins, jewels, and arms mostly dating from the 4th century to 15th century.
Artifacts from the collection are displayed into 14 rooms disposed around the four cloisters.
Notable pieces on view include the Annunciation Triptych (ca. 1427–32, also known as Merode Altarpiece) by Flemish painter Robert Campin, the Scenes from the Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo painting (ca. 1490) by an unidentified Dutch artist, a series of seven late-Gothic Flemish tapestries known as The Unicorn Tapestries, a number of remarkable 14th century stone-carved tomb effigies from France and Catalonia, and a Virgin and Child statue by Catalan sculptor Guillem Seguer (second quarter of the 14th century); finally, interesting silverware. altar implements, and precious liturgical objects are on view in the Treasury Hall.
The Cloisters also features guided tours, talks, concerts, and special events.
Due to its landmark status, the museum is only partially accessible to physically impaired persons; the building also includes a library, a bookshop, and an outdoor cafe.
Three reliquary wood busts of female saints, early 16th century, Belgian art; photo: Marcin Wichary
Floor plans of The MET Cloisters; image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Bonnefont cloister, late 13th–14th century; photo: Alexa Strudler
The Saint-Guilhem Romanesque cloister, late 12th–early 13th century; photo: Lawrence OP
The Cuxa Cloister, ca. 1130–40; photo: Ivan Herman
The Fuentidueña Chapel features a 12th century apse from the church of Saint Martin at Fuentidueña, northern Spain; photo: lawrence’s lenses
The Gothic Chapel with a group of 14th century French and Spanish tomb effigies; photo: lawrence’s lenses
Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut (France), 12th century; photo: MajJar
Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych, ca. 1427–32, oil on panel; photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Scenes from the Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo (detail), ca. 1490, Master of Saint Augustine, oil, gold, and silver on wood; photo: Kenneth Murphy
Cover image: exterior view of The MET Cloisters museum in New York; photo: Alastair Bennett