The Cloisters Museum

I’ve been quietly envious of my globetrotting fellow BVC’ers of late. I haven’t traveled outside the US in years, and there are so many places I want to visit that I can’t settle down to plan a trip to just a few.

Cloisters walkway along the Hudson


I have visited some lovely locations in the domestic sphere, however, including the western rim of the Grand Canyon, Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River Gorge, and, on the manmade side, the Cloisters Museum in NYC.

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art “dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe.” It’s located near the northern tip of the island of Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park, a lovely site that overlooks the Hudson River.



First view of the Cloisters



I rode the A train to 190th Street. Walked thorough the park and up a sloping road, and spotted the museum through the trees.





The museum is divided into multiple smaller cloisters, each of which contain halls, display rooms, and chapels. There is so much to see—I think even a medieval junkie would find it overwhelming to attempt in a day. There are stained glass windows, enamels, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, and statuary.

Grisaille panels, pot-metal and colorless glass w/ vitreous paint, French, Normandy ca 1265

Lion, fresco transferred to canvas, Spanish, Castile-León ca 1200

Reliquary busts of female saints, Brabant, possible Brussels, ca 1520-1530

There are also the Unicorn Tapestries, of which the Unicorn in Captivity is the most famous. I had seen color and black-and-white images of that tapestry in just about every book of medieval art or history I had ever read, so it was quite something to see the real thing.

Unicorn in Captivity, wool, silk, silver and gilded-silver wrapped thread. South Netherlandish, ca 1495-1505


One of my favorite exhibits was the Bonnefort Herb Garden. It is divided into sections: plants used in cooking, brewing, medicine, and magic. There was also a lovely shed where herbs were hung to dry, and where I picked up a list of the plants the garden contained.

View of Bonnefort Herb Garden

The Herb Garden Potting Shed. Drying herbs hung from the rafters

I took so many photos, yet missed so much. A return visit is a necessity.


About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


The Cloisters Museum — 7 Comments

  1. I visited that museum year before last. Indeed, a terrific and worthwhile experience, with the building and surroundings as beautiful as the art. Though I found myself disturbed by the full tapestry story: all these hot=looking young men strutting about in their fashionable clothes basically catching and slaughtering an innocent beast, just because they can.

    • I know–that bothered me, too. Though apparently The Unicorn in Captivity is considered to be the beast reborn. But I’ve also read other analyses that raise doubts that it is part of the set at all, but is instead a standalone.

      • I’ve heard it’s a metaphor. Because the set was given as a wedding gift, it it about marriage. The wild unicorn is the single man, uncivilized and wild. He’s eventually captured and his single life ends and the wildness dies. Then he is captured in matrimony and is tamed. Also, the plants portrayed in the final image are all suppose to be fertility/child birth herbs. Only one theory, of course.

  2. Now I want to go, if only to see the unicorn in captivity tapestry. I was big into unicorns and the history of their myths at one point. It would be amazing to see in person. That garden also sounds like a lot of fun.

    • I loved that garden. Lists of the plants, with their categories and Latin names, were available in the potting shed, so now I have a wonderful reference document. And of course, everything in the beds was labeled.

      I was there in 2014. I wonder if they plant different herbs etc every year?

      Definitely visit if you get the chance. There’s a café on site, and the surrounding park is a great place for a walk.