Going Medieval

Adele Safran with Betty and Barby at the Cloisters c 1964

My mother (in one of her Vogue suits) with me and my sister at the Cloisters c 1964

There’s no doubt that going to The Cloisters when I was a kid cemented my love of Medieval art forever.

The Cloisters very successfully evokes a contemplative feeling with its stained glass windows, its stone walls, walkways, chapels and colonnaded gardens and the amazing collection of Medieval art and furnishings. It’s peaceful and lovely, and people visiting it are conspicuously aware and respectful of the meditative atmosphere.

The masterpieces I loved the most at the Cloisters were The Unicorn Tapestries; the most beautiful Medieval hangings in the world (at least in my opinion).

The seven tapestries of the series show the Unicorn being hunted and caught by elegant men and women, including the requisite virgin. The Unicorn Tapestries gallery at the CloistersThere are horses and hounds, and wild animals, as well as a multitude of flowers and trees- all in exquisite detail and subtle colors.

Even as a child I appreciated the work that went into them – it seemed almost impossible to me that people could ever make anything so fine.

There is a fairy tale element of romance to these beautiful images despite the savagery of the hunt.

Unicorn Tapestry, The Cloisters 1495-1505

The Unicorn in Captivity – he’s so serene and brave and beautiful

Adele Safran with Betty and Barby at the Cloisters c 1964

This is me being reverent and peaceful (ie, respectfully and quietly goofy) at the Cloisters – you can see my mother looking indulgent and my sister looking fed up with me. (you can also see from the photo of us above that it was only a short amount of time from my behaving somewhat properly to my behaving more normally though still restrained – the visiting adults there wouldn’t put up with much more attitude I’m sure)

Their intended Christian message meant little to me – I was transfixed by the beautiful animals, clothes, scenery and the drama of it all. And because they were so convincingly life like, it was easy for me to make believe that the tapestries were showing something that really happened.

I mentioned in an earlier post how I enjoyed playing games of look and see in museums and Medieval art is especially rich in imagery – animals, plants, strange demons, and tortured saints.

I ate it all up and delighted in the details.

Coloring Book of Medieval Letters

Yes! I always colored in the lines

I was an early Medievalist – this is from my coloring book of Illuminated Initials.

I so enjoyed visiting the Cloisters, that I thought life in a Monastery would be perfect – nice quiet rooms, good views, pleasant chanting, pretty gardens, lots to look at…

The Cloisters, Effigy of Count of Urgell 14th c

Here’s a lovely example of something I really enjoyed (and still do) – Medieval tombs. This has a wonderful portrait of the Count of Urgell at peace (a great name), he’s wearing an interesting Medieval outfit including his sword and armor. And there are animals – a beloved doggy warming the fellow’s feet in the afterlife, and two beasties holding up everything and a small servant holding up his head. Its very charming for a big stone box that someone was buried in.

The Cloisters, ivory chess piece

What child wouldn’t like looking at this little carving? Its an ivory chess piece of a Queen on a gentle horse and little Medieval people all around her – maybe they are lining the street throwing rose petals as she passes.

Stained Glass Window panel, the Cloisters

Think about living in a brilliant and magical city with buildings like this – my mind was constantly filled with fairy tales and fanciful places to go.
The brilliant colors and the very clear graphic lines of this panel are strikingly beautiful.

St Roch, The Cloisters

I loved looking at the carved statues of Saints; each with their own story of terrifying suffering. This is Saint Roch. He’s showing us with his pant less and cold looking legs, the last Bubonic bubo on his thigh. His faithful dog has licked his yucky sores and helped save his life, so its only right that he give his dog a bun. St Roch tirelessly tended the sick and starving in his short life.

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