I have been waiting to visit the Cloisters for a few years. Covid derailed my trip last year and I made sure that it was the first item on my to do list. I was not disappointed and will gladly go again. This is not a huge museum but it blends elements from the Louvre, The Vatican and the Cleveland Museum of Art. It is artfully laid out with beautiful gardens surrounding the building and is located in Fort Tryon Park. There is a lily garden as you exit the museum that is a delightful assault on the senses and the west terrace has a beautiful view of the Hudson River. It is unique, beautiful and well designed. Other terraces offer a sweeping view of the Hudson River.
John D. Rockefeller bought the land on the upper West Side of Manhattan (Washington Heights) in 1931 and the Medieval art collection from George Barnard in 1925. Work began and the museum opened in 1938. The Cloisters contains Medieval architecture and 2000 pieces of art from the 12th to 15th centuries, including statue, tapestries, paintings, crypts, and stained glass. The gardens within the cloisters were reconstructed from “medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals” (https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/history). Some of the plants are labeled and there are some beautiful feature plants like an esplanade pear tree.
A cloister is a covered walkway and surrounds a square garden or green space. The walkways are usually attached to a monastery, convent or larger church walls, and has a colonnade. I looked into the history and found on http://www.theculturaltrip.com that the four cloisters are the Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Bonnefort-en-Comminges, Trie-sur-Baise, Froville, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, and other European locations were excavated in France from abbeys and monasteries from those same names and constructed on site between 1934 and 1939. There were later installations from 1958 to 1962 from Fuentidueña Chapel in Spain and the Lagon Chapel from Burgundy, France.
What I found truly enchanting about The Cloisters was the peaceful atmosphere. I felt like I was walking through a monastery or an abbey and was expecting a Gregorian chant at any moment. The ambience is soothing and the art is displayed in such a way to invite reflection and repose with little distraction. Since the museum was not busy, there were times I was alone in some of the rooms and areas. It is easy to admire the beauty, significance, and detailed craftsmanship of each piece as they are diluted through overcrowding. The experience took me from King Henry VIII’s rosary to Medieval unicorn tapestries.
This museum is not only beautiful but unique. It is away from the hustle and bustle of the city and it made me forget that I was in Manhattan. The Cloisters is difficult to get to. I have seen reviews where it has taken two hours on a bus and the train is much quicker even though it is a 10 minute walk uphill to the museum. Other suggest driving because there is parking on site. Since I was near Times Square I took an Uber and have to admit it was a pretty price to get there. I will say that it was worth the time, effort, and money to get there and I will visit again. My kids are highly interested and I believe my friends are, too. If you like sacred, religious medieval art in a Gothic setting then this is the museum for you. It’s not always on everybody shortlist when they hit Manhattan, but, I will tell you that it really is worth adding.