As you may have, um, noticed from this year’s Lenten series, I’m rather partial to cloisters. The simple truth is: I just can’t get enough of them.
So, given my love of cloisters, why were my expectations of The Cloisters ― a branch of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art ― so low? I didn’t bother to make the trek all the way to Fort Tryon Park until my fourth visit to New York; even then, I debated whether or not to make the effort. (Though, in the end, I was glad I did as I decided the park alone is worth a visit. As you can see here.)
The thing is, I’d always been under the impression that the buildings that make up The Cloisters are all reconstructions. Purist that I am, I figured since I’ve seen many a real cloister ― in France, and Spain, and Italy ― why would I want to see a mere imitation?
Turns out I was completely misinformed. The Cloisters aren’t reconstructions; they’re the real deal. (And let that be a lesson to me: I didn’t do my homework before dismissing The Cloisters and almost passed on what is a marvellous opportunity for anyone in the vicinity of New York who cannot get themselves over to Europe.)
The Cloisters had its origins in the private collection of American sculptor George Grey Barnard, who lived in Paris for more than a decade in the late nineteenth century. In the decade before World War I, he got into the habit of collecting and bringing home with him pieces of medieval architecture from French villages. John D. Rockefeller bought the collection from him in 1925, and later donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rockefeller also donated to the city of New York the land that now makes up Fort Tryon Park.
Open to the public since 1938, the museum is a chronologically arranged ensemble of remnants from five French abbeys: Saint Michel de Cuxa, Saint Guilhem le Désert, Trie-sur-Baïse, Froville, and Bonnefont-en-Comminges. In addition to the buildings, there are more than 2000 works of art, including illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and tapestries.
Here, take a look.
If medieval history is your thing, I highly recommend a visit to The Cloisters.
As for me, I can’t wait to go back.