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Art From Us MUSEUM GUIDE : The Metropolitan Museum of Art : Gallery 20

The MET : Gallery 20 : Late Gothic Hall (The Cloisters)

Art From Us Museum Guide

For Museum GuideArt From Us brings you three works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) NY’s Cloisters’ collection of Medieval Art.

Exhibited in Gallery 20 – “The Late Gothic Hall”  – the three works are :

DOORWAY mid-15th century, Metropolitan Museum, Medieval Art

SAINT MICHAEL ca. 1530, Metropolitan Museum, Medieval Art

VIRGIN AND CHILD ON A CRESCENT MOON ca. 1480, Metropolitan Museum, Medieval Art

THE MET : A Brief History of its Changing Locations

The Metropolitan Museum opened it’s doors to the public for the first time in 1872.  On 20th of February the MET’s doors opened to the public. They finally saw the collection, having waited 2 years from the museum’s inception in 1870.

The MET ( as it is lovingly referred to) wasn’t always in such an expansive space. In fact it’s collection and location were humble, in a way. It’s original home was located on 681 Fifth Avenue, which housed the “Purchase of 1871”, which was 174 European paintings. Today we may no longer find the MET at this address, but if you do stumble across 681 Fifth Avenue you are but a stone’s throw away from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) NY.

Coming back to the story of the MET and it’s changing locales, within the first year of its existence the MET surpassed the 174 paintings limit. This led to the realisation that the building could no longer contain the museum’s fast growing collection. They were forced to look for a better suited space, and found it in The Douglas Mansion. This would then become home for the MET only for 7 years, between 1873 – 1879. Whilst at the Douglas Mansion, the MET acquired and began construction for what would become its permanent address in Central Park – on 1000 5th Ave. In it’s current location the Museum opened it’s doors to the public in 1880. If you ever wondered what it might have looked like in those early days – we found these delightful sketches done at the time :

THE MET : The Making of

Founded by a group of financiers, artists, businessman and cultural enthusiasts, The Making of the Metropolitan Museum, Central Park was an epic journey in and of itself. The key players were John Taylor Johnston, George Palmer Putnam, Eastman Johnson, Howard Potter and Luigi Palma di Cesnola – supported in large part by the vision of Andrew Haswell Green who was a financial wizard.

Green had a very specific plan regarding the development of the Central Park area. He wished to make it a magnet for cultural activities. It was through Green’s influence that in the 1870s the Board of Commissioners of Central Park  agreed to the allotment of land for such projects. The first “cultural project” opened it’s doors to the public in 1877. This was for the opening of ‘The American Museum of Natural History’. The second “cultural project” was the MET. The Board of Commissioners agreed to lease land that was on the outskirts of Central Park. The reason being that they did not want to disrupt the landscape and pastoral life there. They hired the same architects – Calvert Vaux  and Jacob Wrey Mould – who had designed the American Museum of Natural History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art finally opened it’s doors – in its new home, in the year 1880.

The MET Cloisters

Located in Northern Manhattan, the MET Cloisters are a branch and extension of the main Fifth Avenue museum. The Metropolitan Museum NY’s Cloisters’ collection of Medieval Art is possibly the world’s largest collection of Medieval and Byzantine Art. Seeded by the American sculptor and art dealer George Grey Barnard’s private collection of the same, John D. Rockefeller Jr. acquired and donated this collection to the MET in 1925.

There is a beautiful synchronicity in the buildings that form the MET Cloisters and the objects they house. The reason for this is due to the fact that most of them are French Abbeys and Chapels that were brought from France and then reassembled here. This occurred between the years 1934 – 1939, under the watch and direction of famed architect Charles Collens. Today ‘The Cloisters’ are formed by four cloisters – namely –  Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont, and Trie along with  three chapels and a large Romanesque hall. These structures continue to house the Metropolitan Museum NY’s Cloisters’ collection of Medieval Art, as they have done since 1938.

Gallery 20 : Late Gothic Hall ( The Cloisters)

One of the oldest and the largest halls at The Cloisters – the Late Gothic Hall is home to sculptures and paintings from Italy, Spain and Germany. The majority of the collection can be dated to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

It is worth mentioning that the Hall has high timber ceilings and grand alcoves and walls that add to the viewers experience of the collection. The architecture of the space functions like a time-travel machine, allowing us to experience the tapestries and sculptures as they must have been in centuries past. It shut briefly for a 5 year period in the early 2000’s as part of the ‘Building Preservation Project’. It reopened to the public on December 8th 2009.

“The Cloisters” is a must visit as it is a perfect example of the Metropolitan Museum NY’s Cloisters’ collection of Medieval Art. The objects and artworks on display in conjunction with the architectural space, transports you to Medieval France whilst still in the hustle and bustle of modern-day New York.

5 Things we love about the Metropolitan Museum NY’s Cloisters’ collection of Medieval Art

  1. The Metropolitan Museum NY’s Cloisters Museum sits atop a hill in Upper Manhattan, expanding on over 4 acres of land, looking over the Hudson River.
  2. Charles Collens (chief architect), Joseph Breck (interiors) and James J. Rorimer (curator and director) created an aesthetic that gently guides you from the Romanesque to the Gothic periods within the various structures of the Cloisters.
  3. The Gardens of the Cloisters are meticulously planted with herbs and flowers that are found in Medieval Horticultural books as well as the kinds of fragrant and medicinal weeds and plant that Medieval Monks would have planted.
  4. The gardens, the architecture and the art all create an atmosphere that is transportive in nature. When one enters the Cloisters, one feels as though you are in Medieval Europe. It is a phenomenal effect.
  5.  The last in this short list of favourites – are the seven Flemish tapestries that depict “The Hunt of the Unicorn”. It is a personal favourite of ours and a MUST see. You can see it whenever you visit New York next, as it is on permanent exhibition at Gallery 17 in the Cloisters you will be hard pressed to miss it.

Visiting the MET circa 2005

On an early summer-morning I took a stroll down Central Park and was greeted by baby strollers, birds chirping and a general air of joy. It was a unique moment in the madness that is New York.

Wanting to get away from the chaos I stepped onto a track that I knew would bring me straight to the 5th avenue entrance of the Metropolitan Museum, NY. Standing before the grand steps and the even grander building I smiled cheek to cheek. The cause of my joy and excitement were the posters and signage for the ongoing special exhibition, which was the Peter Paul Rubens – The Drawings . The first ever restrospective of the artist and his drawings to be showcased in the United States, I was bouncing to get in. It is worth mentioning that what greeted me after making my donation fee to the MET was my brightly coloured metal badge of entry. Retired in 2013 due to rising metal costs and lack of procurers, the metal badges came in 16 brightly-coloured hues. This admission metal badge at the MET was first introduced in 1971.

Every time I visit the MET I felt lucky just being there. The Peter Paul Rubens – The Drawing exhibition was stupendous – with 115 works on display – displaying the talent and style of this Baroque Master. Some of my favourites I share with you here :

Portrait of a Boy with a Coral Necklace ca 1619 Peter Paul Rubens

Artist : Peter Paul Rubens
Title: Portrait of a Boy with a Coral Necklace
Year : ca 1619
image courtesy : https://www.imagekind.com

Rubens' daughter Clara Serena (or Infanta Isabella's lady in waiting) by Peter Paul Rubens 1623

Artist : Peter Paul Rubens
Title : Infanta Isabella’s lady in waiting
Year : 1623 – 1625
image courtesy : /commons.wikimedia.org

Peter Paul Rubens Studies of Heads and Clasped Hands ca. 1610

Artist : Peter Paul Rubens
Title : Studies of Heads and Clasped Hands
Year : ca. 1610
image courtesy : http://www.artnet.com/

We Love the MET because ….

I end this article with a few of my most beloved impressions of The Metropolitan Museum. In my first few visits I was struck by the abundance of non-art spaces in the Museum. This is what strikes-out the most as a first-time visitor. It is here beyond the artworks, artefacts and galleries that one can sit and think. With no urgency to leave, these spaces are the highlight of my visit, every single time.


Visit the Archive for Museum Guide

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