Manhattan’s Most Serene Museum: The Cloisters
In the city that never sleeps, where hustle and bustle dominates and radiates, there comes a time to rejuvenate, reflect and renew. You relish a bite of the Big Apple, but before it bites you back, you search for a rapid, cost-efficient escape from the concrete jungle. Time for some city calm. The best part? You don’t need to leave New York City to find the perfect springtime retreat: a serene sanctuary for seasonal contemplation.
Located at the very tip of Inwood, as far as you can travel in Upper Manhattan, high above the Hudson River, there is a reconstructed medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “The Cloisters”. It is so tranquil and contemplative that it rightly takes on a spiritual tone, and has become my own personal refuge for transcendental reverie.
As you travel by foot through the lovely Ft. Tryon Park to the cobblestoned entrance of the Cloisters, the bucolic scenery invites a welcoming sense of quiet and reverence. The shining view of the Hudson, as well as the actual location itself, stems from the vision of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. He had the foresight to purchase the property on the New Jersey side of the river so the view would not be interrupted by anything modern, assuring an Arcadian vision.
The Cloisters is the closest you will get to the medieval world in the entire United States. The actual building itself resembles a monastery from the Middle Ages. It invites you to step back some 800 years and consider a slower, simpler time. The stone arches and colonnades are Romanesque, the walkways are cobblestoned, and the Gregorian chant subtly piped throughout the vaulted archways permeates the atmosphere.
The Cloisters houses some 3000 pieces of art from the 9th to the 15th centuries. There are five “cloisters,” i.e. enclosed open rectangular spaces surrounded by walks with open arcades, throughout this site. As you move quietly and slowly with respect and awe, stained glass windows and medieval effigies are displayed in a monastic-like evenly toned setting. Many of these artifacts are religious in nature, creating a thematic altar of art.
Don’t miss “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” better known as the series of seven “Unicorn Tapestries,” which are displayed in the permanent collection. Follow the narrative of a group of noblemen and hunters as they pursue the mythical unicorn, culminating with “The Captivity of the Unicorn,” one of the world’s most famous tapestries. Another highlight is a special timely exhibit on loan from the British Museum featuring an 1100 year-old chess set carved from the ivory of walrus tusk found off the west coast of Scotland on the Island of Lewis.
The outdoors and indoors mix seamlessly at The Cloisters, with the beautifully tended seasonal gardens — especially the medicinal and herb plantings commonly used in medieval times — are uniquely indicative of the museum’s thoughtful holdings. Natural fragrances that can be detected here include poet’s jasmine, sweet violet, bay laurel, lavender, mandrake, Madonna lily, milk thistle, and evergray. The names alone invite a soothing calm for our souls. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” wrote William Shakespeare. The cycle of seasonal growth, no matter the century we walk in–or move into–is honored, resected, and celebrated.
Depending on the seasons, The Cloisters offer tours, lectures, occasional concerts of early music, and conversations with curators. Look for me at the April 19th lecture on “Spring, Courtship and Medieval Youth Culture,” or perhaps at the May 6th lecture on “The Medieval Storybook.” An upcoming concert of Renaissance motets is offered on April 7th — in time for Passover and Easter celebrations.
A small café is located outside the covered walkways surrounding the “Trie Cloister,” which is open seasonally from May to October. There are so many dimensions in which to enjoy The Cloisters, seek out your preference. On any level it will soothe your soul.WHAT: THE CLOISTERS – Metropolitan Museum of Art WHERE: Located at the Northern Tip of Fort Tryon Park (Inwood) Ph: 212.923.3700 TICKETS: Suggested Donation $25; Closed Mondays
By: Joanne Theodorou