NYC - Fort Tryon Park: The Cloisters - Cluxa Cloister
France (originally Catalunya), Roussillon, about 1130-40
From the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa (Saint Miquel de Cuixà), near Peprignan
The Cloisters Collection, 1925
The original capitals, abaci, sections of arcading, and portions of parapet copings that are incorporated into this cloister all come from the abbery of Saint-Michael-de-Cuxa. The Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, located at the foot of Mount Canigou in the northeast Pyrenees, was founded in 878.
In 1791, Cuxa's monks departed in the wake of the French Revolution, and much of the monastery's stonework was subsequently dispersed. The monastery's cloister, built during the twelfth century, originally measured some 156 by 128 feet, or approximately twice its current size at The Cloisters, much of whose architecture is modern. Like the ensemble from Saint-Guilhem, elements were purchased by George Grey Barnard and brought to the United States; part of the cloister survives at the monastery which, once again, houses a community of monks.
The cloister was the heart of a monastery. By definition, it consists of a covered walkway surrounding a large open courtyard, with access to all other monastic buildings. Usually attached to the southern flank of the church, a cloister was at the same time passageway and processional walkway, a place for meditation and for reading aloud. At once serene and bustling, the cloister was also the site where the monks washed their clothes and themselves.
The warm beauty of the native pink marble used at Cuxa harmonizes this cloister's many elements, such as the varied capital sculptures carved during different periods in its construction. Some of these are fashioned in the simplest of block forms, while others are intricately carved. The plains are simple and clearly defined. The decorative and figurative motifs, such as scrolling leaves, pinecones, animals with two bodies and a common head (a special breed for the corners of capitals), lions devouring people or their own forelegs, or a mermaid holding her tail, are concentrated at the corners, architectonically arranged, providing visual support for the abaci and arcading above. While many of these motifs may derive from popular fables or depict the struggle between the forces of good and evil, the conveyance of meaning seems to have been less important for the Cuxa artists than the creation of powerful works capturing the energy and tension between the forms depicted.
The eight-sided fountain in the center (26.79) dates to the thirteenth century and comes from the nearby monastery of Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines.
The Cloisters, a branch of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art and architecture of the European Middle Ages, is located in Fort Tryon Park near the northern tip of Manhattan island on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. The Cloisters collection contains approximately five thousand European medieval works of art, with a particular emphasis on pieces dating from the twelfth through the fifteen centuries.