This unique home for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vast medieval holdings, built in the mid-1930s atop one of Washington Heights’ many hills, seems more a sanctuary on the mountaintop than a museum. For the Cloisters indeed recreate the experience of a Gothic monastery, incorporating architectural features of a French cloister, replete with tapestries, stained glass, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts and intricate gardens. Enjoy the spectacular views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, have a picnic outdoors or in the nearby Fort Tryon Park.
The Cloisters is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park, the building incorporates elements from five medieval French cloisters—quadrangles enclosed by a roofed or vaulted passageway, or arcade—and from other monastic sites in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately five thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about A.D. 800 with particular emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.
The collection at The Cloisters is complemented by more than six thousand objects exhibited in several galleries on the first floor of the Museum's main building on Fifth Avenue. A single curatorial department oversees medieval holdings at both locations. The collection at the main building displays a somewhat broader geographical and temporal range, while the focus at The Cloisters is on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Renowned for its architectural sculpture, The Cloisters also rewards visitors with exquisite illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries.
The noted philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., who in addition to funding the Cloisters and purchasing land across the Hudson River in the Palisades area so that the views would not be obstructed, donated the Cloisters’ most famous piece, the Unicorn Tapestries. Although their origins are obscure, these magnificent tapestries depict a vivid tableaux of medieval life in brilliant hues. They alone are worth a visit!
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