Located in Manhattan, New York City, overlooking the Hudson River inside Fort Tryon Park, The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art focusing on medieval European architecture, sculpture, decorative arts, and gardens. Although the Met's medieval collection was begun in 1873, the extensive medieval art collections of American sculptor George Grey Barnard served as a basis for The Cloisters museum, who publicly displayed his pieces in a brick structure on Fort Washington Avenue.
During a period of financial difficulty in 1925, Barnard sold his collections to John D. Rockefeller Jr., who commissioned the 66.5-acre Fort Tryon Park, located in Manhattan's Fort Washington area, including a building site designed by Charles Collens to house the Barnard collections. The park was donated as a gift to the City of New York in 1935.
The museum was opened to the public on May 10, 1938. Taking its name from the medieval structures that serve as a centerpiece of the building, its design incorporated direct elements of French, Catalan, and Occitan abbeys. From 1934 to 1939, cloisters from these abbeys were excavated, shipped to the United States, and reconstructed at the museum facility. In addition to the facility, Rockefeller purchased several hundred acres of land in the New Jersey Palisades to ensure preservation of the museum's view across the Hudson River.
Today, the 4-acre museum is a well-known New York City and international landmark, featured prominently throughout the 20th century in film and television.
The museum's grounds themselves serve as a living history museum, designed to evoke medieval monastery life, particularly the preserved and reconstructed Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Trie-sur-Baïse, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, and Froville cloisters. The Trie cloisters are home to the Trie Cafe, an outdoor cafe serving light fare. A two-story Gothic Chapel, originally from the church of La Tricherie near Tours and Poitiers, France, contains four tombs and a monument considered to be prime examples of sepulchral art. Several of the museum's exhibit rooms and halls, including the Spanish Fuentidueña Chapel and the French Langon Chapel and Romanesque hall, were also sourced from historical churches and abbeys. Nearly 300 stained-glass panels, including windows from the Carmelite church at Boppard-am-Rhein and the Austrian castle chapel at Ebreichsdorf, are preserved throughout the building, most from the 3rd through the 16th centuries. Traditional monastic gardens surround the facility, featuring more than 250 genera of rare medieval-era plants and flowers and serving as one of the foremost collections of specialized plants in the world.
More than 5,000 medieval European works of art are housed within the museum, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages through the Byzantine and Renaissance periods. Two major exhibit halls, the Early Gothic Hall, focusing on 13th and 14th-century works, and the Late Gothic Hall, housing 15th and 16th-century works, divide the bulk of the museum's collections. An extensive collection of statuettes, reliquaries, shrines, crosses, and other religious items is featured, along with rare pieces of Gothic metalwork and furniture. Other highlights include 12th-century Gothic Madonna ivory statues, panel paintings such as Robert Campin's 1425 Mérode Altarpiece, and the 12th-century Cloisters Cross.
The seven panels of the Flemish tapestry The Hunt of the Unicorn are displayed in a gallery, as well as a series of tapestries dedicated to the Nine Heroes of the Middle Ages. Although the bulk of the Met's manuscript collection is housed at the Morgan Library in lower Manhattan, four illuminated medieval books, the Cloisters Apocalypse, the Psalter of Bonne de Luxembourg, the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, and the Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, are displayed at the facility.
The museum also houses The Cloisters Library, one of the Met's network of 13 libraries. Containing more than 15,000 volumes of books, journals, microfilm series, historical records and papers, and museum archival materials, the library serves as a major repository for information about medieval art and architecture, available by appointment to students and researchers. A large collection of historic photograph collections at the library serve as important documentation of the damage and restoration done to the museum's holdings throughout their lifespan.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Guided and self-guided tours are available for school groups and organizations of 10 participants or more, with programs tailored to elementary and middle school curricula. The Sights and Sounds series is a monthly workshop offered for children on the autism spectrum, featuring guided listening conducted by a music therapist. An ongoing concert series is offered with performances throughout the year, including conducted masses and holiday concerts, and themed family workshops for children ages 4-12 are offered periodically. Other special events include gallery talks and highlight tours related to the museum's collections.
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, Phone: 212-923-3700