Tomb Effigy of Jean d'Alluye
The Clositers, 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, NYC
Made in Touraine, Loire Valley, France, mid-13th century. Limestone.
Jean d'Alluye was a knight of Philip Augustus and one of the principal nobles of the Loire Valley. His career included a trip to the Holy Land, where he acquired a relic of the True Cross. In 1248 he was buried at La Clarté-Dieu, the abbey near Tours that he had founded in 1239. This effigy, in an attitude of prayer, was turned upside down and used as a bridge over a nearby stream. Around 1900 it was purchased from a Paris dealer by George Grey Barnard, an American whose collection forms the core of The Cloisters.
Described by Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, as "the crowning achievement of American museology," is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park, the building incorporates elements from five medieval French cloisters—quadrangles enclosed by a roofed or vaulted passageway, or arcade—and from other monastic sites in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately five thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about A.D. 800 with particular emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.
The collection focuses on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Renowned for its architectural sculpture, The Cloisters also rewards visitors with exquisite illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries.
The Cloisters, which celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in 1998, is named for the portions of five medieval French cloisters—Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville—that were incorporated into the modern museum building. The result is not a copy of any particular medieval structure but an ensemble of spaces, rooms, and gardens that provide a harmonious and evocative setting in which visitors can experience the rich tradition of medieval artistic production. Just as cloisters provided sheltered access from one building to another within a monastery, here they act as passageways from gallery to gallery. They provide as inviting a place for rest, contemplation, and conversation as they did for their original monastic population.
Much of the sculpture at The Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor and avid collector of medieval art. While working in rural France before World War I, Barnard supplemented his income by locating and selling medieval sculpture and architectural fragments that had made their way into the hands of local landowners over several centuries of political and religious upheaval. He kept many pieces for himself and, upon returning to the United States, opened to the public a churchlike brick structure on Fort Washington Avenue filled with his collection—the first installation of medieval art of its kind in America.
Through the generosity of the philanthropist and collector John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960), the museum and all of its contents were acquired by the Museum in 1925. By 1927, it was clear that a new, larger building would be needed to display the collection in a more scholarly fashion. In addition to financing the conversion of 66.5 acres of land just north of Barnard's museum into a public park—inside which the new museum building would be located—and donating seven hundred acres of additional land to the state of New Jersey across the Hudson River to ensure that the view from The Cloisters remain unsullied, Rockefeller contributed medieval works of art from his own collection (including the celebrated set of seven South Netherlandish tapestries depicting "The Hunt of the Unicorn") and established an endowment for operations and future acquisitions.
The new museum building was designed by Charles Collens (1873–1956), the architect of New York City's Riverside Church, in a simplified, paraphrased medieval style, incorporating and reconstructing the cloister elements salvaged by Barnard. Joseph Breck (1885–1933), a curator of decorative arts and assistant director of the Metropolitan, and James J. Rorimer (1905–1966), who would later be named director, were primarily responsible for the interior. Balancing Collens's interpretation with strict attention to historical accuracy, Breck and Rorimer created in the galleries a clear and logical flow from the Romanesque (ca. 1000–ca. 1150) through the Gothic period (ca. 1150–1520). The Cloisters was formally dedicated on May 10, 1938. The Treasury, containing sumptuous objects created for liturgical celebrations, personal devotions, and secular uses, was renovated in 1988. The galleries in which the seven tapestries depicting "The Hunt of the Unicorn" are hung were refurbished in 1999.