Global galleries: The Met Cloisters, New York

Go on a journey back in time and visit America’s only museum dedicated to art and architecture of the Middle Ages

The Met Cloisters is truly a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. The museum can be found in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of Upper Manhattan, hidden away in Fort Tryon Park. What makes this museum particularly unique is that the modern building is centred around four medieval cloisters, creating a historic space to view their collection dedicated to the art of medieval Europe, with a focus on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. 

In 1930, the American philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jr bought the land in Washington Heights. He donated it to the Metropolitan in 1931 with the intention of building a museum. Seven years later, in 1938, it opened its doors and was described as a collection ‘shown informally in a picturesque setting, which stimulates imagination and creates a receptive mood for enjoyment’. 

It has an impressive collection of more than 2,000 artworks and artefacts in a series of chapels and themed galleries; objects include illuminated manuscripts, wood sculptures, tapestries and panel paintings. Be sure not to miss the highlights: the c. 1422 Early Netherlandish Mérode Altarpiece and c.1495-1505 Flemish The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. I would recommend downloading the free audio guide available on the Bloomberg Philanthropies mobile app. The recordings by the museum curators, conservators and horticulturists explain the artworks, architecture and gardens in depth, helping to make the experience more engaging and informative. 

During the Middle Ages, cloisters were spaces for quiet contemplation and relaxation. The Met Cloisters’ several gardens, filled with seasonal herbs and flowers, still serve this historical function whether you are observing the garden designs or sitting in the outdoor café. 

I would suggest giving yourself two to three hours to explore the Cloisters. Don’t miss the epic views of the Hudson River from the terrace, and why not finish your trip with a leisurely stroll through Fort Tyron Park.  

If you are seeking a cultural activity away from the crowds, with a lovely atmosphere and interesting collection, the Cloisters ticks all these boxes – and is a great alternative to the MET and MoMA. 

$30 for adults; $22 for seniors; $17 for students. Free for members, patrons and children under 12. 

The Met Cloisters is open every day 10am-5pm apart from Wednesdays, when it is closed; 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, New York, NY 10040; metmuseum.org/visit/plan-your-visit/met-cloisters 

By Scarlet Bailey Tait. Scarlet is based in London and specialises in writing about art

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