Editor: Jose Morales
Step through the doors of The Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan and enter a medieval oasis nestled atop Fort Tryon Park.
New York City – Nestled atop a hill within the picturesque Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights, The Cloisters is truly a hidden gem of New York City that stands as a testament to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe. As a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museum offers visitors a captivating journey back in time, providing a tranquil space from the hustle and bustle of the city streets below. With its impressive collection of medieval artworks, The Cloisters is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
The Cloisters first opened its doors to the public in 1938. However, its origins can be traced back to the early 20th century when American sculptor George Grey Barnard began amassing a remarkable collection of medieval art. This collection, which formed the core of The Cloisters, was later purchased by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., who donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rockefeller’s vision was to create a museum that would showcase the beauty and significance of medieval art in a setting that evoked the ambiance of a European monastery.
One of The Cloisters’ most captivating and impressive aspects is its architecture. Designed by architect Charles Collens, the museum is a harmonious combination of modern construction and medieval inspiration. The Cloisters incorporates elements from five medieval cloisters purchased and disassembled in Europe and shipped brick by brick to New York City, resulting in one of the city’s most unique and immersive experiences. As you walk through the museum, you will not only be able to admire carefully curated unique pieces of art but will also encounter intricately carved stone arches, soaring vaulted ceilings, exquisite tapestries, gorgeous stained glass windows, and serene courtyards that will make you feel as if transported back in time to a medieval monastery. Some of these cloisters date as far back as 804 A.D.! Each architectural detail provides a backdrop that complements the exquisite artworks on display.
The Cloisters houses one of the world’s finest and most important collections of European medieval art, featuring over 5,000 artworks and artifacts from this period. With a focus on Romanesque and Gothic art, each piece tells a story of the artistic and cultural achievements of the Middle Ages. Highlights of the collection include illuminated manuscripts rich in vivid illustrations and calligraphy, stunning sculptures and paintings such as the Annunciation Triptych (ca. 1427–32) by Robert Campin, and the famed Unicorn Tapestries (1495–1505). Sculptures in stone, wood (such as Virgin, dating back to 1250), and metal provide insight into both religious and secular medieval life. The Cloisters’ collection of stained glass showcases around three hundred panels, generally French and Germanic, from the 13th to early 16th centuries. Additionally, three historic chapels are housed within The Cloisters, the Gothic Chapel, the Langon Chapel (ca. 1115), and the Fuentidueña Chapel (ca. 1175 – 1200), the largest room in the museum boasting a majestic dome adorned by the Virgin and Child in Majesty (ca. 1100) and a hanging crucifix made between 1150 to 1200 in Spain.
As you explore The Cloisters, be sure to take a moment to step outside and immerse yourself in the enchanting outdoor gardens. Designed to evoke the essence of medieval gardens, these meticulously cared-for spaces of lush greenery, fragrant flowers, and carefully cultivated herbs are what make The Cloisters a true oasis within our bustling city and probably our favorite place in New York City. The gardens provide a peaceful environment for contemplation and serve as a living exhibit, showcasing the types of plants that would have been cultivated during the Middle Ages.
There are three main outdoor areas, each modeled after a distinctive medieval style. The Cuxa Cloister features an ornamental central fountain and geometrically-patterned beds contained by covered walkways. The Bonnefont Cloister is the museum’s oldest, with medieval plantings surrounding an open lawn. And the Trie Cloister includes a cottage garden overflowing with herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
To enhance your visit to The Cloisters, the museum offers a range of immersive experiences and educational programs. Guided tours provide insights into the historical context and symbolism behind the artworks, offering a deeper understanding of the medieval period. Additionally, The Cloisters offers workshops, lectures, and live music performances that bring the medieval world to life.
Whether you are a local resident or a visitor to the city, a visit to The Cloisters is an opportunity to escape the busy streets of New York and immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of the Middle Ages. Don’t miss the chance to explore this medieval masterpiece and discover the wonders that await within its walls. – GM
• Our preferred time to visit: On weekdays, two hours before closing time in Autumn. It will offer the most quiet time for you to enjoy a serene experience almost all by yourself as there are not as many visitors.
Images by BlueAngel Photography New York for Guild Magazine.
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