Many moons ago, back in grad school, my friend Andrea Rossi Reder told me about this wonderful museum of Medieval and Renaissance art, the Cloisters, that was constructed like a medieval cloistered monastery. It took me a few years to get there, but my husband and I visited one spring some time ago. It was a beautiful place, near Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson River. I not only enjoyed all the exquisite art and the ancient-styled construction, but loved wandering the herbal garden in the sun and warmth of spring. Last week, my husband proved is is indeed “goals” by taking me back there after another stretch of many years. This winter visit had charms of its own. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed the museum.
After taking the A-train from the 125th St. station, we hopped the 100 Bus to St. Nicholas Street, then another subway, and we were right outside Fort Tryon Park. Crossing the park showed us the bleak beauty of winter, the red bar berry bushes, crimson hemlock berries, and the frosty-blue berries of another type evergreen. We even got to see a fluffy, black squirrel, rare in my neck of the woods. Then the Cloisters loomed through the trees against azure shading down to soft winter-blue skies .
These sculpture, likely not Medieval, greeted us as we made our way up the drive. We took turns guessing what the hell they were as we approached. I hit the jackpot with the conjecture of, “Pears?” For once, modern sculpture stuck in the middle of nature didn’t appear so terribly intrusive.
I like this shot of the arched entry way. Note the cobblestone drive way. We had to dodge a few not so Medieval buses dropping off passengers here. I’ll apologize in advance for not having pictures of Yang. We used his Ipad and I hate trying to take pictures with the darned thing.
After entering and moving through the great hall, we moved off to the side to the square surrounding the cloisters garden, now closed off from us by glass – allowing us to look out at the neatly mown ghost of the summer garden, while keeping the December cold outside. During the warmer months, this area is all open. When I visited Mont St. Michel and saw their cloister garden growing within the monastery, high atop the island mountain, I realized the inspiration for the Cloisters garden. Even with winter’s hand stilling the garden, the December sunshine filled the indoor court surrounding it with brightness and beauty. The carvings on the capitals of the columns were fascinating – humans, beasts (mythological and fanciful), gods – I could swear I saw C’thullu.
We went back into the building proper, then wandered from room to interconnected room, drinking in the sacred images culled from monasteries, churches, and castles – excited to find these treasures opened up to our experience, but, perhaps, a bit troubled that they had been stripped from their original homes. Still, here, they are restored, protected, and cherished. Towards the end of our meander, we came across this carved altar with the golden reliquaries of a saint and her attendants – I think St. Ursula.
Female and male martyrs of the early Church were honored in stained glass, wooden statuary, and paintings. There were tons of artwork of St. Margaret. However, in honor of my BFF Barbara, I have to include this statue of St. Barbara.
From the other side of the arch in the same chamber, here is one of my favorite statues of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. She is clothed in the sun and stands on the crescent moon. Just to the left, you can see a carving of St. Christopher bearing the child Jesus. These statues are more colorful than some of the others. I don’t remember if their paint had been restored. Most likely the case.
Here are some more particularly striking carvings of Virgin and Child. What must the colors have been like when this piece was even relatively new? The thought takes my breath away. If you can look closely at the folds of Mary’s robes and the strands of her hair, you’ll be filled with amazement at the workmanship. Truly, this work is a loving prayer.
Every October, I like to have some bedtime reading that suits the season. I just finished two new books: Midnight Fires and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The first is a mystery by Nancy Means Wright that features Mary Wollstonecraft as its intrepid detective. Wollstonecraft is a great choice for the role, as anyone who has read her Vindications would agree that she has all the nerve, smarts, and wit to boldly ask the questions and dig the dirt necessary for an investigator. Her being cast in this role makes perfect sense. The novel is set during Wollstonecraft’s tenure as governess to the aristocratic Kingsborough family in Ireland and does a neat job of characterizing “the troubles.” We also get good views of the workings of the Kingsborough family, as well as how contemporary views of women have stunted and warped them – right in line with MW’s own writings. The descriptions of the landscapes are a pleasure to read as well. Not least of all, the mystery has some neat twists and turns.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pleasantly amusing visit with the supernatural – a low key, smile-inducing progress of Lucy/Lucia Muir’s liberation from oppressive Edwardian propriety to become a mischievous, independent woman – with a little help from a frank and fiery sea captain’s ghost – though she was already well on her way to freedom before they met at Gull Cottage. There are some significant changes from book to film, but both work equally well. I do think that Gene Tierney gives Lucia Muir a bit more power than the character in the book.
There are four books that I usually return to once I finish any new prizes for the month: The Uninvited (Dorothy Mcardle), The Sign of the Ram (Margaret Ferguson), The Undying Monster (Jessie Douglas Kerriush), and Redeeming Time (me, unpublished – yet!). What I admire in the first three (and try to emulate in the fourth), is the depth of characterization, the creation of a powerful mystical/eerie atmosphere, the vividness of the landscapes, and the intelligence of the storylines. What makes them such a pleasure to read is their authors’ deftness with language: there’s enough detail to savor and shape your imagination but no excess or filler. Right now, I’m working on The Uninvited. I review it and The Sign of the Ram on this web site, under Golden Age Mysteries. The Undying Monster is part of the psychic detective genre, with a woman psychic brought in to help a scientist uncover the nature of the beast that has ravaged an ancient British family for centuries and now threatens to destroy his two close friends. The novel deftly captures the post WWI fascination with psychic phenomenon and leads characters and readers into the dark depths of ancient ruins, crypts, and family history to reach a final, mystical resolution – and it’s a fun ride!
What’s Redeeming Time about? Think H. P. Lovecraft meets film noir meets Indiana Jones meets Val Lewton.
Image of Gene Tierney from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir copyright 1946, 20th-Century Fox (http://classicbeckybrainfood.blogspot.com/2010/08/just-thought.html)