Friday, May 07, 2010

New York: Day 5

(May 1: my final day)

I woke up early and, knowing I would be heading to the airport later, started putting away my clothes and other belongings which were strewn about in haphazard fashion. (Never let it be said that I fail to make myself at home.) I let Julie sleep, figuring she should get as much rest as possible.

Eventually Julie greeted the day with a barbaric YAWP. Having dressed, showered, and accomplished a few other random items, we headed out NOT on the subway, but on the bus, just to prove we could use the New York bus system. And then we had to transfer to another bus because it turned out we were on the wrong one. Oops.

Anyway, eventually we made it to Fort Tryon Park... we could visit The Cloisters.

At first blush this might look like a bona fide monastery, but it is not.

The building was actually built in the 1930s for the express purpose of housing and displaying medieval artworks owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Elements of several medieval buildings, including five medieval French cloisters, were incorporated into the museum at the time it was built. You can read quite a bit more about it here, if you're interested.

Much of the work at The Cloisters is religious in nature. This fresco is mounted in an apse brought from Fuentidueña, Spain.

This doorway was brought to the United States from Burgundy in France.

The chapel just beyond was originally situated in Aquitaine, France.

But despite the look, this section of the Fuentidueña apse did not come from Disneyland.

One of multiple cloisters. Each one is quite peaceful and has its own unique feel.

Pediment detail of an acrobat. (Architectural details for the win!)

Another cloister. I wonder how carefully the workers must have labored to make sure these columns were not damaged or broken.

Some details of archwork. Look at the pediments.

A high-relief Italian marble panel depicting Saint Peter Martyr, a Dominican priest of the 13th century, and three church donors, sculpted by Giovanni di Balduccio. The piece was carved in the 14th century, but there are elements of the composition that are remarkably naturalistic for a medieval artwork.

OK, I'm taking off my "art historian" mask now. Just took a picture of it because I liked it, pure and simple.

A number of tomb effigies in this room make it feel like a church.

The tomb effigy of Ermengol VII of Spain, a count of Urgell who died in 1194.

The sculptor seems to suggest he died with a clear conscience.

This one's even more interesting. It's the tomb effigy of Jean d'Alluye, a French knight who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was said to have acquired a fragment of the True Cross. Originally Jean was buried at an abbey near Tours, but for many years (for reasons unknown and inexplicable) this effigy was turned upside down and used as a bridge over a nearby stream. It was purchased in 1900 by George Grey Barnard, who obtained many of the original pieces that would become The Cloisters collection.

I hope he enjoys not being a bridge any more.

Before coming to The Cloisters, I knew very little about it, but I was aware of one aspect of the collection: the tapestries.

They do have quite a few.

But these are the ones most people know the best:

The Unicorn Tapestries.

They are quite astonishing in person.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to take as many pictures as I would have liked...

...because a Cloisters guard decided to play the heavy and bark out "No flash!" every few seconds. (I had turned the flash off, but try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to turn off the red-eye control, and I was getting the stink-eye from this guy. Yes, I do understand how fragile the tapestries are and I had no intention of damaging them with my camera.)

Eventually Julie suggested I cover the red-eye flash with my finger, which worked pretty well.

Tapestry detail.

There are fragments of two other unicorn tapestries displayed above a doorway, but the photo of these didn't turn out well.

So I borrowed this image from The Cloisters website. By the way, did you know the Unicorn Tapestries were made in the southern Netherlands? (I didn't. I was always under the impression they were French. In reality, they were just owned by the French.)

The Merode Altarpiece, a fairly well-known triptych. I love the fact that Mary's almost too engrossed in her book to notice the angel.

This is a rosary bead, made of boxwood and depicting scenes from the birth, early life and crucifixion of Christ. It's designed to fold closed when not in use. The carving work looks pretty impressive, even before you realize the whole thing is only about the size of a walnut.

Some more illuminated manuscripts.

Ask any amateur calligrapher and he or she will say the same: there can never be too many of these. They are wonderful.

Fine cloisonne work of angels with censers.

A medieval Pietà, unusual for its attempt to portray Christ at the proper scale. Even Michelangelo's Pietà has made Mary large enough to cradle Christ in her lap, though Michelangelo does it so skillfully that you don't really think about it.

You guessed it: another cloister, this one incorporating a small cafe. As we soon discovered, you cannot order oysters at The Cloisters, more's the pity.

This walled garden contains all sorts of medieval plants: culinary herbs, healing herbs, herbs used in magic potions, plants commonly portrayed in art during this era. In the middle are four gnarled, beautiful quince trees.

This is a new installation piece which we dubbed "The Passion of the Tan."

After saying goodbye to The Cloisters...

(bye Cloisters!)

...we got back on the bus, stopped by Julie's apt., picked up my luggage and attempted to head down to Chinatown for a short shopping jaunt before my plane took off. Unfortunately we got on a subway train that was running local rather than express. Julie was tearing large chunks of her hair out before we got to our stop.

The good news is, we got to ride on the subway with Mr. Smee.

While we were running around, I noticed The National City Bank of New York building...

...specifically this detail. It was finished only two years before the stock market crashed. There's a story to be had from this building.

Incidentally, the building now inexplicably houses a Payless ShoeSource.

As we were on our way back to the subway to get to JFK, I finally yielded to the siren call of street meat and bought a lamb gyro from a vendor.

Looks fairly innocuous, doesn't it? Ha! Far from showing any gratitude at having been purchased, not ten seconds after I bought this morsel it peed grease all over me. All over my bag, and all over the front of my shirt.

Now I will be the first person to tell you that I am not highly fastidious. My house is regularly reduced to a shambles, particularly when I'm in the middle of creating stuff. But there is one particular negative visual stereotype I cannot abide and will not propagate: that of the fat lady with food stains down her shirt. On occasions when I spill food on myself and I don't have access to a change of clothes, I have been known to whip my shirt off in a public restroom and clean the offending spot in the sink, if necessary, rather than wear it around for more than a few minutes. So you can imagine I was a little twitchy at the uncouth (not to mention incontinent) behavior of my gyro.

Fortunately, since I was on my way to the airport, I did have a change of clothes handy. I opened my suitcase, removed the one clean shirt remaining to me, and changed right on the subway platform. Julie looked on in frank befuddlement as I put one shirt on over the other and wiggled out of the grease-stained T. Such is my particular weirdness, I suppose.

Anyway, just one more thing to round out the theme of this trip, as stated in previous posts. The crumbling, '60s-era Delta terminal at JFK was filled with little birds -- flying, nesting, stealing crumbs from hungry travelers, the whole nine yards. It was really rather impressive and I'm sorry I didn't take a picture.

And now, cats and kitties, the tale of the trip to New York is DONE.


Wendy Jean said...

Love the passion of the tan!

I sooo know what you mean about having a spot! And this inevidably happens when I wear white!

Soozcat said...

Julie and I had to laugh. Of all the places to choose to get a tan, the lawn of The Cloisters?

Well, I guess at least it was green and sunny.

LDahl said...

I've heard of the Cloisters so often, but you know, I've never seen such good pics as those you took. Thank you for sharing the trip!

Soozcat said...

Glad you enjoyed it! (I certainly did too.)