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The Cloisters, Washington Heights, New York City, Part 2

This continues our visit to the glorious Cloisters museum in Upper Manhattan. Read Part 1 here.

The museum, owned and maintained by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is simply beautiful. The artifacts are breath-taking, but my favorite part was the building itself and the park surrounding the area. Fort Tryon Park is one of the jewels of Manhattan, in my opinion.

After viewing the stone effigies in the chamber, we wandered throughout the halls to admire the stunning architecture and ancient art. As I mentioned in Part 1, the building is an amalgam of several original buildings from France, dating back to the 13th century. Most of the artifacts date about that time, as well. All art during this period was religious, as medieval society was governed largely by the Catholic Church.

This Polyptych Nativity is beautiful. Because so few could read, artists depicted Bible events in images. And, of course, the Catholic Church regales images as objects of worship (icons). This piece was crafted by Belgian Rogier van der Weyden in the mid 15th century.

Polyptych nativity

Polyptych Closeup

Other works were crude imitations of their more delicate Italian counterparts. This “Pieta” is carved from lindenwood, a common material for many of the artifacts of this period.

German Pieta lindenwood 1435

Here is another striking carving, of St. Margaret and made of pine.

St Margaret

St Margaret plaque

When perusing a museum’s artifacts, I gravitate toward the “everyday” objects, such as dishes, clothing, tools and such. Some of these pieces are spectacular. This is the Valencia Brasero, a Spanish earthenware dish glazed with copper and tin. I can definitely deyttect the Middle Eastern/African styles in the Spanish art.

Valencia Brasero

Here is a Nasrid tile. Definitely Moorish.

Nasrid Tile 16th century

This is a very unusual reliquary case from Switzerland or France. It’s made of leather and iron.

Foot Relinquary Case 1350

The Cloisters has many types of reliquary cases, some extremely ornate. This one was one bedecked with beautiful jewels (since taken). A reliquary case held relics, religious objects of worship. This unusual arm-shaped reliquary case held the arm bones of an old saint. The bishop or priest would slip this case over his arm, similar to the “We’re Number One” foam hands seen at sports stadiums today, and wave it before the people. This was supposed to bless the people. Don’t ask me where on earth they got all these rituals…

Relinquary Arm

Relinquary Arm plaque

Here’s something incredibly interesting– a liturgical comb! What is a liturgical comb, you ask? I have no idea! If you have a clue, please let me know. I’m very curious. Was it to comb hair shirts? The beards of the priests?

Liturgical Combs

Some were made of bone, others of ivory. The carvings are exquisite. Are those griffins carved on this comb?

Ivory Liturgical Comb 11th century Italy

This next object was my favorite piece. It’s the Manuscript of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation), made of vellum. It was made in 1330 in Normandy, probably for a noblewoman who was unusually devout. Oh, it’s so lovely.

Norman Vellum Book of Revelation 1330

I’ll end our journey here, for now. Come back for Part 3, with many more photos and quirky stories! Thanks for reading.

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (2)

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  1. Tom says:

    Hi, I enjoy your blog. I just want to point out that the various religious objects in the museum are used as teaching instruments and as tools for prayer. They are not worshiped in any way (of course, some of the faithful may view them in error in this way.
    Here is an explanation with some strong language:
    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/do-catholics-worship-statues
    I hope this will help put some of the objects found in the Cloisters into an appropriate context – the religious items were tools, intended to help the faithful find their way to an appropriate relationship with God.