Medieval Museum-ing

by Laura A

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Cuxa Cloister, the garden at Ft. Tryon Park, and the medieval kitchen garden at the Cloisters

Now that the girls are at camp, I’ve been spending a lot of my time at the Metropolitan Museum, both the main building on Fifth Avenue and the Cloisters uptown in Inwood.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Metropolitan, the Cloisters is a medieval collection combining various architectural elements from churches, monasteries, and other buildings in Europe.  Of course, as it’s a museum, the building is not of one unified style or purpose. But the architecture and artwork are well-integrated enough to give the feeling of being in Europe, perhaps even Italy.

The museum is also in a lovely setting. As I approached the building through Ft. Tryon Park, I could smell dirt, greenery, and lavender coming from several acres of well-tended gardens. The landscape style in the garden is informal–lots of groundcover and a pleasing chaos that is supposed to suggest a wild landscape but isn’t. I was pleased to spot a Nuthatch on one of the trees. On my left was the broad Hudson River (complete with a sailboat) and the Palisades. It gave me a nice feeling of nostalgia, this being one of the three regions in which I feel at home.

Once inside the museum, there are two gardens, Cuxa Cloister (which, being a cloister, is well-integrated with the surrounded indoor space) and the medieval kitchen garden, which is on a terrace downstairs. The kitchen garden is particularly instructive because it contains a lot of medieval plants referred to in literature (and elsewhere) that most people haven’t seen, like rose madder pigment, wormwood, arum (for magic potions), and hops.  And it’s also a pleasant place to rest and watch sparrows fly in and out of the Italian-syle terra cotta roof tiles.

Inside, I have been making sketches.  I seem to be drawn to 13th C. French statues of the Virgin Mary.  I know that sounds specific, but I keep coming back to them again and again.  But also, I’ve been drawing the knight Jean d’Alluye, who went off to the Crusades and came back in 1244 with an Asian sword, which is memorialized in his tomb effigy.  I read somewhere on the museum’s website that at one time the effigy had been turned over and used to bridge a creek. In fact, the number of tombs and sacred objects in these museum can make you wonder if anything in medieval Europe stayed where it was and is still used for its intended purpose, but I can attest that some of it did.

Shown below are some of the statues I like best, and my sketches of them.  I don’t include the sketches because I think they’re particularly good, but because knowing that I plan to post them might make encourage me to keep at it.

I’ll keep going to the museum as long as we’re in the city, so perhaps I’ll post more sketches later.  But since I don’t have a scanner for now, please pardon my sometimes-blurry photos. My connection is slow here, so I don’t always have the patience to keep reloading them.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to meet some friends while I’m here, too, like Julia, Monica and Barbara, who sometimes comment on the blog.  It’s great to catch up with you and thanks for making time for me!

There are captions below the photos:

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1. Gothic chapel in the Cloisters, setting for the tomb effigy of Jean d’Alluye. 2. Close of up the tomb effigy. 3. Quick sketch of the same. 4. 13th C. Virgin statue from Strasbourg, in modern-day Alsace, France.  5. One sketch of the statue, without facial detail since for now it’s giving me fits. 6. & 7. Two favorite statuettes (photo credits Metropolitan Museum, click for details of works) from the main building on Fifth Ave., which also has an excellent collection of medieval statues, reliquaries, and other artifacts.

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