“It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” ~ David Allan Coe
Hello friends! Happy April 1 (and yes April Fool’s!) Spring is in the air and there is no better place to be then amongst the flowers and history. In a city of millions upon millions of people, and known as the Concrete Jungle, hidden oasis’s and finding nooks of solitude seems like a near impossible feat. Yet, nestled in Fort Tryon Park which use to be more real estate for millionaires at the turn of the century than housing soldiers or defending a city, lies a museum that could have come right out of a Victor Hugo novel.
The Cloisters were born from the collection of sculptor and collector George Barnard who was obsessed with Medieval art. Bordering on the poverty line for most of his life, it was brought on by his need to collect as many artifacts as he could. He even brought over the four cloisters, the Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont and Trie, from France of which the museum is built around. He also established the first medieval gallery in Manhattan. He struggled with money problems his entire life and eventually sold most of his collection to John D. Rockefeller Jr. who acquired the pieces for the Metropolitan Museum.
Rockefeller had acquired land and wanted to design a park in the Fort Washington area. A few years later he decided that that would be the perfect pack to build what is now known as The Cloisters for the Metropolitan Museum. Charles Collens designed the museum, and he took his inspiration from European abbeys as well as other European and religious architecture. While Rockefeller was the main financier he also enlisted the he donations and collections from other wealthy philanthropists and bankers like J.P. Morgan and Joseph Brummer.
It is like taking a step back into time well before America was founded, and the melding of that oldness with the new creates an incredibly cool atmosphere. There is something about The Cloisters that makes your imagination, or at least mine, run wild. It is equally parts Abbey and stone castle, and I can just picture ladies walking around in Elizabethan garb, walking the grand stone staircases, and even using the very art work we so admire. It really does bring a whole new definition of functioning art. In fact there is even a stone bath tub in one of the exhibits!
As much as my imagination does run wild, there is still very much a reverence as you walk around the museum. While it was never an Abbey,in the true definition more was it and while there are several gothic chapels, it has always been used as a museum, and not for any religious ceremony. Yet, because it is a hodge podge of religious sites and artifacts from all over Europe and the Holy Land, there is a power, almost a veneration that you feel as you explore. It truly is an experience that you only get if you are in Europe, and yet it is in New York City.
In my opinion, the gardens are the true gem of the Cloisters surrounded by the historical grotesques and arches, I almost want to burst out with lines from Romeo and Juliet. Which is ironic because I don’t like Shakespeare, but it certainly reminds me of that time period. After walking around the museum, the gardens are a welcoming and joyful reprieve to the buildings draftiness. And aside from the meditation garden, where they do require silence, talking doesn’t feel as irreverent as it does inside.
There are three different gardens, located on different levels of the museum, but built around the cloisters themselves. Many of the plants are medieval (thus the Shakespearian feel I always get), artfully planted, and tended to horticulturists who studied fourteenth century plants. The gardens are as much of an exhibit as the art work itself is. There are also several cafes which look out onto the gardens so you can grab a bite to eat or sip coffee as you enjoy the view.
I have visited the Cloisters countless times. It is one of my favorite places in the city and it is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of New York. With views of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge it is truly a stunning place that allows hours upon hours of exploration and adventuring. I feellike I can get lost in time going here. I also can’t help but take lots (and lots!) of pictures when I am here for it really is the perfect spot to practice photography, or to just escape for a little bit.
Have you ever been to the Cloisters? What is your favorite museum to go to? Where do you love to seek solitude?