Friday, November 12, 2010

The Cloisters, The Medeival Outpost of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City

A gallery doorway from Moutiers-Saint-Jean (ca 1250) in The Cloisters Art Museum (photo by Luis Bastardo)

When Luis and I arrived in New York, I decided to buy a CityPass, a book of discount tickets for various cities allowing cheap entrance to popular attractions and avoiding waiting in long lines. While it's true that, in New York at least, there are many free entrance days at the museums, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art allows you to pay whatever you can afford, the CityPass allows much more flexibility and includes other attractions such as a visit to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Empire State Building. You can visit museums on less crowded days and times (the free days are often packed to the rafters with locals, tourists and school groups on field trips, making it nearly impossible to move or even get close to the art) and the line to have your ticket validated is almost always much shorter than the line for those waiting to buy tickets. The only drawback is that one of the tickets is a Cloisters/Metropolitan combination, which means that you have to visit both museums on the same day, a significant challenge since they are at opposite ends of the city.

Sim and Luis in the Medieval Garden at the Cloisters  

The Cloisters is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art of Medieval Europe, but is located in Fort Tryon Park at the far north end of Manhattan, requiring a combination subway/bus ride or just a bus ride of at least 45 minutes, often closer to an hour, from the main branch of the Metropolitan, located at 82nd and 5th. The bus drops off passengers directly at the entrance to The Cloisters. The best day to combine the two museums is either Friday or Saturday, when the main branch is open from 9:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m, allowing sufficient time to visit both and commute between them. The Cloisters closes at 4:45pm or 5:15pm, depending on the season, so visit that museum first, then make your way down to the main branch of the Metropolitan. Directions from the Cloisters website: By Subway/Bus, 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.

Pietà, early 16th century, Burgundy, France, The Cloisters collection (photo by Luis Bastardo)

Luis and I decided to leave from our apartment early in the morning, combining the subway and bus and arrived just as the Cloisters museum was opening. The museum, a project of John D. Rockefeller, opened in 1938, houses about 3,000 works from Medieval Europe, dating from around the ninth to the sixteenth century. The building itself is an incredible work of art, composed of various elements of five different Medieval French cloisters (Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville) and numerous European monastic sites, including imported stained glass windows from a castle chapel in Ebreichsdorf, Austria, carved stone entrances, columns capitals, stairway enclosures and arcades from Spain and Italy. The Medieval gardens were reconstructed from monastic plans and include medicinal plants, fragrance gardens, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and magical plants. The museum offers free guided tours at 3pm and gallery talks at various times to discuss the works of art and the gardens (including workshops on weaving, gardening, music and painting, as well as talks in Spanish and for families/children).

The Unicorn in Captivity, from the Unicorn Tapestry collection, The Cloisters (photo by Luis Bastardo)

The art collection includes the famously well-preserved collection of wall hangings woven from wool, silk, silver and gold threads, known as "The Unicorn Tapestries", as well as numerous, incredible examples of triptychs, retables, altarpieces, candelabras, paintings and sculptures. Allow plenty of time to view the collection, visit the gardens and take in the views of the Hudson River and surrounding green hills. This part of Manhattan is very different from the rest, with a peaceful, pastoral feeling more like the countryside than part of one of the busiest cities in the world. From the gardens and upper floor windows, there are amazing vistas of the Hudson River Valley, rock overhangs and outcroppings and the neighborhoods and historic buildings of the area. When you're finished enjoying the museum, you can stop for a snack at the museum cafe, then wait for the bus at the entrance to take you down to the main branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (make sure you keep your entrance ticket; it's good at both museums).   

View of the New Jersey Palisades from the gardens of the Cloisters, across the Hudson River (photo by Luis Bastardo)     

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