The Museum's collection of medieval and Byzantine art is among the most comprehensive in the world. Displayed in both the Main Building and in the Metropolitan's branch in northern Manhattan, The Cloisters museum and gardens, the collection encompasses the art of the Mediterranean and Europe from the fall of Rome in the fourth century to the beginning of the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century. It also includes pre-medieval European works of art created during the Bronze Age and early Iron Age.
Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2016
Readers unfamiliar with early European playing cards will be surprised by their total lack of uniformity. In the English-speaking world, all decks of ordinary playing cards comprise fifty-two cards in four suits—Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs, ranked in that order—with Kings, Queens, and Jacks as face cards and number (or "pip") cards from 10 through 2. Instead of a 1, there is an Ace, which has the highest value. Additionally, there are two Jokers, which are used in some games and not in others.
Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2016
The Cloisters Playing Cards, one of which is illustrated above, are the focus of the small but exciting exhibition The World in Play: Luxury Cards, 1430–1540 (January 20–April 17, 2016). Alongside them are examples from the only other hand-painted decks of cards to have survived from the late Middle Ages, together with playing cards from the earliest engraved and luxury woodblock decks. This blog series on In Season will explore the history and uses of the rare medieval playing cards in the exhibition.
Posted: Thursday, December 24, 2015
The Cloisters recently acquired a rare medieval refectory bell that is now installed in the Cuxa Cloister outside the Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut. Smaller than the taller and more familiar church bells usually suspended in bell towers, this bell was probably made for a monastic refectory, or dining hall. Cast in copper alloy using the lost-wax method, it is inscribed with the words Tinnio pransvris cenatvris bibitvris, which translates to "I ring for breakfast, dinner, and drinks." In addition to the inscription, the bell is decorated with roundels depicting two angels, a winged lion, and the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God.
Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2015
The Cloisters will be decorated through January 6 in celebration of the holiday season. Last year, we provided historical context for the designs and explained how our unique decorations are made using fresh plant materials associated with the medieval celebration of Christmastide, the twelve days between the Nativity and the Epiphany.
Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2015
In the past few weeks, my colleagues have shared tales from their summer travels. This past summer, I went to France to visit several spectacular sites of Romanesque art and architecture with a group of fellow medieval-art historians.
Posted: Thursday, November 5, 2015
In October, the sound of acorns falling from our oak trees, ricocheting off car roofs and crashing to the cobblestones, steadily and loudly increases. Etymologically, "acorn" is related to the Old English aecer (modern acre), as well as to Old French words for "nut" or "fruits and vegetables." Ultimately, acorn evolved to mean something akin to "fruit of the unenclosed land." Although the term originally referred to the nuts of any tree, we now use the word specifically for the nuts of oak trees.
Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2015
In recent weeks, my colleagues have shared tales from their summer travels. My trip took me to Paris, where I made excursions to several medieval monuments that are experiencing ongoing restoration work, which provides unusual access to see them up close. (Scaffolds are a good thing!) The most exciting visit was to Notre-Dame de Reims, or Reims Cathedral, in the heart of the Champagne region. Not only is it one of the canonic Gothic cathedrals of the thirteenth century, but it is also the subject of the dissertation that I completed some years ago.
Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015
This fall, several of my colleagues shared tales from their summer travels. My summer adventures took me to paradise. Well, paradise from a medieval perspective. I traveled to Kerala, a coastal state on the southwest tip of India. Kerala is known as the land of spices because of its role as a major producer and exporter of spices for thousands of years.
Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2015
Handmade objects can bring seemingly distant times and places powerfully into the present. This is particularly true for finger rings—readily familiar and still widely worn by men and women—which are especially effective at reaching across the ages. While fashions, techniques, and technologies have changed dramatically over the centuries, the essential ingredients of the finger ring, consisting of the hoop, bezel, and shoulders, have remained the same for millennia.
Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2015