Out & About: Up-Up-Uptown
Discovering New York City Secrets
With the promise of warmer weather and sunnier days, we traveled far uptown, to Mahattan’s northern tip. Perhaps the A-train is a secret time-traveler because, upon arrival, we were transported right into Medieval Europe.
In a bustling city like New York, chancing upon the castle-like structure is a bit like stumbling into an apparition — it seems to be a stone mirage peering through the trees of Fort Tryon Park — but The Cloisters actually is a trove of carefully-curated art from medieval Europe, spanning the ninth and sixteenth centuries. Founded over seventy years ago, The Cloisters was named for the portions of five medieval French cloisters (Stain-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville that were disassembled brick-by-brick and shipped to New York in the 1930s) that were incorporated into the overall structure so that the building is an ensemble of medieval architecture that feels harmonious and museum-like. Simply put, this is a single building made up of many — limestone arcades from late 12th century France, iron door mounts from 11th-century Limoges, monastical chapter houses — transforming The Cloisters into its own kind of masterpiece.
Within these walls are over 3,000 works of art and artifacts ranging from illuminated manuscripts and tapestries to ornamental brooches and 15th-century playing cards from Flanders. Notable pieces include Robert Campin’s Triptych with the Annunciation Merode Altarpiece and a series of seven 15th-century unicorn tapestries whose vivid imagery of the capture of a mythical unicorn have proffered a panoply of symbolic interpretations from Christian allegory to the triumph of wedded love. However, beyond the poplar pietàs and sandstone reliefs of lions, is the peaceful quiet that hums throughout its walls. Visitors are encouraged to sit for long stretches of time, forgoing the temptations of modern technology while watching shadows flicker across the sun-splashed floors and enjoying the sparse beauty and simplicity.
Further complementing this aesthetic is the carefully tended and cultivated plant-life. While strolling through the Cuxo Cloister, one is struck with fragrant notes of citrus and rosemary. As explained on their blog, “one of the most unique aspects of the Museum is the way in which the gardens are integrated into the collection. From the Museum’s inception, the curators envisioned the artwork and gardens as a whole, where the plants were not merely aesthetic elements, but also of great educational value. Many of the galleries either open directly onto or provide views into one of the three interior gardens. This arrangement encourages visitors to experience the gardens as part of medieval culture, to make connections between the plants and the objects, and to understand both within the historical context presented in the galleries.” So, while passing through the St. Guilhem cloister, one will see tidy pots of paperwhites and daffodils basking in the sunlight and later, after a careful session of pollarding (a medieval technique of hard pruning), one will drift through the fragrant crab apple blooms in the Cuxa Cloister and holistically experience medieval life.
And so, after an afternoon stroll through the yesteryears, we felt as though we had travelled much farther than those few miles uptown. Ready for our own renaissance, we settled upon the grassy meadow that stretched before the stone edifice and watched the sun set on yet another New York City adventure. Stay tuned for more.
The Cloisters Hours
March — October
November — February