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The Cloisters Cross: Its Art and Meaning

The Cloisters Cross: Its Art and Meaning

Parker, Elizabeth C., and Charles T. Little
336 pages
200 illustrations
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The walrus-ivory Cloisters Cross, a masterpiece of English Romanesque art, has long been a centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Cloisters collection, a separate museum in Fort Tryon Park (New York City) devoted exclusively to the art of the Middle Ages. In fact, ever since its acquisition in 1963, the cross has been the subject of speculation and mystery. The dearth of solid information about its provenance prior to its ownership by a Yugoslav art dealer and restorer has generated a number of tantalizing theories as to its origin, function, and early history, although no one has denied the exceptional quality of its workmanship or the unparalleled complexity of its design. The story of the cross's creation, survival, and meaning is explored in this fascinating book. Of special interest is the sheer number of figures that populate the compact scenes on both sides of the cross, and of biblical passages diligently inscribed on individual scrolls held by Old Testament prophets across its surface. The cross is a tour de force of sculptural artistry, which holds within its small physical scope an iconographic encyclopedia of learning almost unmatched in Medieval Art. This comprehensive study is addressed to the genuinely curious visitor to the Cloisters collection, as well as to the specialized scholar. The authors have included a systematic description of the intricate construction of the cross and an analysis of every detail of its carving. They offer substantial new insights to the findings of previous scholarly research as to possible meanings and context, in terms of both the liturgy and the intellectual milieu of the twelfth century in which it has been placed. The attribution to the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds—the name by which the cross was first known—is discussed at length. In rich and exacting detail the authors reveal, as do the splendid new color photographs by Malcolm Varon, just how the Cloisters Cross, in its imagery and consummate workmanship, bears "witness to a level of erudition and artistry seldom seen in the twelfth century or later."

The Cloisters Cross, Walrus ivory, British
ca. 1150–60
Plaque with Christ Before the High Priest Caiaphas, Walrus Ivory and paint, British
ca. 1150–75

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Parker, Elizabeth C., and Charles T. Little. 1994. The Cloisters Cross: Its Art and Meaning. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art : Distributed by H.N. Abrams.