A couple weeks ago Alex and I took a trip up to The Cloisters. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, especially because it’s part of The Met, which can do no wrong in my book.
Set on top of a hill overlooking Fort Tryon Park on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood, the museum features European Medieval art and architecture. I accidentally took the long way up from the park, through leafy back roads and up a series of hidden steps, and I’d recommend that to anyone visiting. Perhaps the best part of The Cloisters is the way that everything feels like an adventure, even before you get to the actual museum.
The museum gets its name from its collection of four cloisters, which were brought from medieval French monasteries and reconstructed. If you aren’t sure what a cloister is — I wasn’t — it’s a roofed arcade running along the sides of buildings, which face each other to form a rectangular-shaped indoor courtyard of sorts. They’re usually found in Medieval churches and were historically home to monks and nuns.
My favorite was the Bonnenfont Cloister, where the main attraction was a garden, featuring an extensive collection of Medieval herbs and plants used back then for medicinal and household purposes. They had everything from a tiny pomegranate tree to more rare plants that I’d never heard of. I could have stayed there for hours, inspecting each plant and taking in the views of the Hudson River.
The Cloisters also houses several chapels, as well as a collection of Medieval art, like manuscripts, stained glass windows and perhaps most notably, tapestries. I was thrilled to see the “Unicorn in Captivity”, which I distinctly remember reading about in my Art History textbook. It’s part of a series of seven equally arresting tapestries about the hunt and capture of a magical unicorn.
The museum felt small and manageable (two hours was more than enough time to linger over everything), with just enough elements of surprise for the first time visitor. The focus is on the architecture and the atmosphere, and the overall effect is a sort of calming oasis. People were instinctively quiet and reflective, the way the monks might have been as they strolled through the cloisters and gardens.
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