Hunting Unicorn at the Cloisters

January 13, 2011

As the time draws near to pack up the apartment, my partner and I have been checking off “to do’s” from our NYC bucket list at a mad pace.  This last weekend the sun was out and while it was cold, it was really a pretty weekend so we got out early (ish) on Sunday and took the underground up to 197th or so to see the Cloisters.  The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, was assembled from architectural elements, both domestic and religious, that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century. The building and its cloistered gardens—located in Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan—are treasures in themselves, effectively part of the collection housed there. The Cloisters collection comprises approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about the ninth to the sixteenth century. View selected highlights from the collection, or learn more about the curatorial department that oversees The Cloisters collection.  The Treasury in the lower level of the museum had to have been my favorite part, don’t miss it if you go.  There you will find tiny treasures in gold, enamel and other precious materials.

A brief history:

After returning from World War I, George Grey Barnard, a prominent American sculptor and an avid collector of medieval art, created the first incarnation of what was to become The Cloisters. After years of collecting, Barnard opened a public gallery on Fort Washington Avenue filled with his personal collection – considered the first exhibit of medieval art of its kind in the U.S.  In 1925, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquire Barnard’s museum. Over the next two years, it became clear that a much larger building would be needed to display the growing collection.  To assist, Rockefeller donated a very large section (over 60 acres) of riverfront land to the City for a public park with the new museum to be built right smack in the middle. Rockefeller then donated an additional several hundred acres on the New Jersey side of the Hudson to ensure that the views from The Cloisters would remain unspoiled. Then, just to ensure the eternal devotion of the city, Rockefeller donated priceless medieval works of art from his own personal collection including the famous set of seven South Netherlandish tapestries depicting “The Hunt of the Unicorn”.



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