The Cloisters (Or, the Met: Pt. 4)

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in February/March 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The Cloisters

Part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this subdivision of the museum focuses on European Medieval art and architecture, mostly Romanesque and Gothic. The collection, gathered by George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor, was purchased for the museum by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Pieces from the collections of J.P. Morgan and Joseph Brummer eventually joined The Cloisters as well.


The building itself was designed by Charles Collens, inspired by abbeys in Catalonia and France and containing medieval gardens, chapels, and themed galleries. They are intended to evoke European monastic life, and they certainly deliver, as it really does feel like a bit of Europe made it to New York City.

The Fuentidueña Apse

The site was purchased by Rockefeller in 1930 and donated (along with the Barnard collection) in 1931. The museum finally opened in 1938. Pieces from the cloisters at Sant Miquel de Cuixà, Saint Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-sur-Baïse, and Froville were disassembled and brought to New York City, where they were integrated into the more modern building.

Virgin and Child in Majesty by Master of Predet Catalunya
The Cloisters Playing Cards

This is the only known complete deck of illuminated ordinary playing cards (as opposed to tarot cards) from the fifteenth century. The deck is composed of four suits, each with a king, queen, knave, and ten pip cards, and it is believed to be Franco-Flemish in origin.

Saint-Guilhem Cloisters

The original monastery, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, was founded in 804 by Saint William (Guilhem), Duke of Aquitaine and a member of the court of Charlemagne. The site was a famous pilgrim destination on the path to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The capitals of the cloister have different motifs: some imitate ancient Roman forms, other represent stories from the Bible, including Daniel in the Lions’ Den.

Cuxa Cloister

This was part of the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, which is located at the base of Mount Canigou in the northeastern Pyrenees. It was founded in 878, and abandoned in 1791 due to the French Revolution. The cloister itself was constructed in the 12th century, and was originally twice the size currently on view at The Cloisters, as part of the structure was left behind in its original home.

A Knight of the d’Aluye Family
The Virgin Mary and Five Standing Saints above Predella Panels
Mérode Altarpiece attributed to Robert Campin

The Mérode Altarpiece is possibly its most famous holding, as it is a foundational work of Early Netherlandish painting. It has been in the Cloisters since 1956, when it was purchased by Rockefeller. Also known as Annunciation Triptych, it is unsigned and undated, but has been attributed to Robert Campin, an Early Netherlandish painter, and an assistant, and is believed to have been completed sometime between 1425 and 1428.

Mérode Altarpiece attributed to Robert Campin
The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Bonnefont Cloister

While originally thought to have come from a Cistercian monastery in Bonnefont-en-Comminges near Toulouse, some of the capitals from this cloister are now believed to have come from a 13th-century Franciscan monastery in Tarbes, which was demolished in the early 1900s. The cloister holds a medieval garden, and each set of plants has been labeled according to their medieval usage, whether medicinal, culinary, or magical. The species grown in the garden are all plants documented in medieval sources, and some were traditionally used to create pigments for manuscript painting and textile dyeing.

Aquamanile in the Form of a Lion

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