Monday, April 2, 2012
The whole time I was living in New York, I never made it up to the Cloisters. I guess it's because I've always considered myself more of a contemporary art person. Give me art with a meaning and a message, art that's trying to break boundaries and say something new. All my art history classes would have me believe that any art before the Renaissance was endless gilded panels featuring Jesus in various states of life and death. I remember learning specifically that Medieval art was defined by a lack of spacial depth and that the figures were usually stiff and expressionless because the clever Renaissance artists hadn't come along yet to invent perspective (of course you shouldn't follow my art history here too closely, I'm mangling it to make a point) Plus, all Medieval artist were anonymous members of craftsmen guilds, there were no romantic stories about starving artists struggling with their own genius. No alcoholics or illicit goings on, just Jesus and Mary in every form you could think of, but all blending together. I thought it was boring so I learned the dates and the styles I needed to, learned to tell apart the Annunciations and the Ascensions and then quickly forgot everything I learned after I passed the test.
Now I regret having ignored such an incredible swath of art history.
The Cloisters was opened in 1938 but was built to resemble several actual cloisters. It houses part of the Metropolitan's Medieval art collection. Just walking though the museum is an incredible experience. In addition to the artworks on display, columns, doors, and windows from 12th-15th century are worked into the architecture of the building. There are open courtyards and historically accurate Medieval style gardens.
The beauty and intricacy of the work in all of the pieces far outstrips my ability to describe it. But I will say that the art was definitely not stiff and expressionless, it was all full of emotion and had a life to it that you will definitely not find at the MoMA. I was completely in awe the whole time I was there