The Cloisters, Manhattan, New York
99 Margaret Corbin Drive
Fort Tryon Park
New York, New York 10040
First, how to get there:
Take the A train to 190th Street and exit the station by elevator. Walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive for approximately ten minutes or transfer to the M4 bus and ride north one stop. If you are coming from the Museum’s Main Building, you may also take the M4 bus directly from Madison Avenue/83rd Street to the last stop. (Please allow more time for this option.)
Take Henry Hudson Parkway northbound to the first exit after George Washington Bridge (Fort Tryon Park–The Cloisters). This exit is only accessible from the northbound lane; if coming from the north, take Henry Hudson Parkway southbound to exit 14–15, make a U-turn, and travel north one mile to the exit marked Fort Tryon Park—The Cloisters. Parking is free.
Admission for adults is $20.00. It is considered a donation, and they will accept any donation that you can afford. This is such a wonderful place that it seems only fair to be as generous as you can! The admission button also admits you to the Met’s main building on Fifth Avenue.
The cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. It is set in a beautiful park at the northern tip of Manhattan close to the subway station at 190th Street.
Here is how I wound up spending the day here.
Most of my friends know the story, but I was born in Manhasset, New York. My father was British Vice-Consul in New York, and he worked in the Empire State Building commuting from our house in Manhasset. During this time, he got to know New York well. He painted in Central Park in winter and visited all the museums in the city. We left New York in 1956 when I was only two so I was not really at an age where these treasures meant much. My father renewed his enthusiasm for New York and its museums when he was Consul in Havana in the late sixties. Quite often, diplomatic service business would take him up to New York from Havana where he’d spend a week doing business and enjoying everything New York had to offer.
When I came to live in the United States in 1981, he’d often talk about The Cloisters and he’d rave about what a wonderful place it was. I went last Friday (July 16, 2010), and understood exactly what he meant. My joy in the beauty of this place was just slightly tarnished by a sense of shame. How could I have been so stupid as to have lived in the United States for so long without paying a visit to this extraordinary museum?
Unfortunately another appointment in Manhattan meant that I couldn’t get here until after three in the afternoon. Even though I knew the place would close at 5:15 PM, I determined not to rush it — I just wanted to absorb the beauty. It was quite an emotional experience to be among these ancient treasures and I confess to shedding a tear or two as marveled at the collection and mourned the loss of both my father and mother who would never have allowed their enthusiasm for this collection to fade. And I thought about Ben and Lydia, my dear brother and sister, who very probably saw this collection with my parents.
The first thing that struck me was the size. When my father had talked about it, he described a reconstructed medieval cloister, which would have been worth seeing if this was the only thing there. But this place is quite enormous with over 5,000 items on display!
I spent a long time in the largest quadrangle the Cuxa Cloister, the largest part of the museum. This 12th century cloister is a reconstruction of a much larger cloister from a Benedictine monastery called Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa at the foot of Mount Canigou in the northeast Pyrenees. It was lovely to sit here with my music (Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony), photograph the flowers, and look at the various doors, pillars, sculptures, and fonts that decorate the place.
After leaving the Cuxa Cloister, there really wasn’t all that much time left before the museum closed, but I did take a good look at the tapestries, some of the stained glass, and a few of the sculptures. Two hours allowed me only enough time to know what the place is about and to discover what an amazing place it is. But I need to come back to look at all the treasures exhibited here.
Here are just three of the pieces that caught my attention:
The stained glass in the picture above depicts St. Lawrence. You can see the fire beneath his feet, which is a departure from most portrayals of this saint, in which he is seen lying on the grill. Legend has it that Lawrence was grilled to death and placed on a barbecue. He was said to be so brave that half way through this torture he told his captors that they could turn him over as he was “done” on the side that being cooked. This piece of stained glass was made in Canterbury (England) between 1175 and 1180.
The sandstone head shown above was carved in the late thirteenth century and comes from Strasbourg. It may have been from Strasbourg cathedral or possibly another church in the same city. I was amazed by its perfect condition.
This enthroned virgin is from Tuscany and dates back to the first half of the fourteenth century. Made of terracotta, it is probably a workshop model rather than a finished piece. Possibly it was to be used by a goldsmith who was working on an altar piece.
I highly recommend The Cloisters to any visitor to New York. It is wonderful to escape from the pace of the city and contemplate in peace.
After my visit, I took the M4 bus to the main building of the Met on Fifth Avenue. The bus was probably a mistake as there was a long wait and the ride took a really long time. I should have taken the subway.