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The French Franciscan Cloister in New York

Céline Brugeat, 2011–2012 Annette Kade Fellow, Department of Medieval Art

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012

«The Cloisters incorporates significant sculptural ensembles from medieval cloisters from the south of France, traditionally identified as coming from four sites: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Bonnefont-en-Comminges.» (Ensembles from a fifth French medieval cloister come from Froville, in northern France.) Bonnefont Cloister includes two galleries that frame a beautiful medieval garden overlooking the Hudson River. (See The Medieval Garden Enclosed for more about The Cloisters gardens.) The gothic capitals carved with foliate ornaments echo the lush medieval plantings of the garden.

Bonnefont cloister     A capital from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes in the Barnard museum

Fig. 1: Bonnefont cloister; Fig. 2: A capital from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes in the Barnard museum, 1925

The sculptural elements were acquired1 early in the twentieth century by George Grey Barnard, a well-known American sculptor and collector, during his travels in France. The Metropolitan purchased them from Barnard in 1925. In the first published guide of The Cloisters, curator Joseph Breck wrote: "These capitals form part of a series from the cloister of a destroyed monastery at or near Saint-Gaudens (Haute-Garonne) in southern France."2 This supposed provenance conformed to information found in Barnard's own inventory records.3 However, in 1927, for the third edition of the guide, Breck revised the information to say that the elements came "presumably from the cloister of the destroyed Cistercian abbey at Bonnefont-en-Comminges."4 This attribution ostensibly came from Barnard himself, during an informal discussion with Breck that same year.5 The belated and unique association of this cloister with the Cistercian abbey of Bonnefont is very surprising, with little historical, stylistic, or archaeological evidence to support it.

The abbey of Bonnefont has been widely published, beginning in the late nineteenth century. Aware of these publications, in 1938, James J. Rorimer, curator of The Cloisters (and later Director of the Metropolitan), proposed other possible provenances for The Cloisters ensemble, basing his observations on comparable pieces still in France. Yet the association of the cloister in New York with Bonnefont has persisted over the years. Thanks to a fellowship from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Annette Kade Fellowship), I was granted the opportunity to focus on the history and origin of the "Bonnefont" cloister.6 By following the lead of one of the local antiquarians who did business with Barnard, I was able to discover the origin of some of the Cloisters' capitals that had been traditionally—and mistakenly—associated with Bonnefont. Our investigation takes us back in time and into the Pyrenees Mountains.

Original capital in situ     Capital, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fig. 3: Original capital in situ; Fig. 4: Capital, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25.12.0746

Detail of original capital in situ     Capital, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fig. 5: Detail of original capital in situ; Fig. 6: Capital, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25.12.0745

Element from Cordeliers of Tarbes at the Cloisters Element from Cordeliers of Tarbes at the Cloisters Element from Cordeliers of Tarbes at the Cloisters
Element from Cordeliers of Tarbes at the Cloisters

Fig 7a. The original capitals in situ; Fig 7b–e. The elements from Cordeliers of Tarbes at the Cloisters. Old photographs © A.P.M.A. George Gray Barnard Papers: 1895–1941. New photos: © C. Brugeat

1912 Acquisition: Franciscan Cloister of Tarbes

The search begins with the records of George Grey Barnard. Eight photographic negatives from the early twentieth century,7 preserved in the archives of Philadelphia Museum of Art,8 present the remains of an original cloister, with its capitals, columns and base in situ. Alas, no date or location is mentioned, but among these remains, five capitals in the "Bonnefont" cloister can be distinguished (figures 3–7).

In a separate folder from the same archives,9 Emile Liau, "antiquarian"10 at Tarbes11 proposed, on October 26, 1911, to sell to George Grey Barnard some pieces of the Franciscan cloister of Tarbes (around fifteen pieces). In a second letter dated February 13, 1912, Emile Liau confirmed that George Grey Barnard had agreed to buy these elements.12

Research in French archives and websites has allowed us to match the photographs with this correspondence. Photographs of the monastery, taken prior to its complete destruction in 1907–08 include an image of the cloister still standing (figure 7a).13 In comparing this last photograph with those preserved in the Barnard's papers (figure 8),14 we recognized immediately the arches of the same cloister, confirming that some pieces preserved at the Cloisters museum came from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes and not from the abbey of Bonnefont.

Photograph showing the Franciscan cloister

Figure 8: Photograph showing the Franciscan cloister. © A.D.H.-P. Fonds Louis Caddau. Published on the website of the commune of Loucrup

According to Emile Liau's correspondence, it was only in 1912 that the pieces were purchased by George Grey Barnard, that is to say, around four years after the complete demolition of the building. We can suppose that the remains of the cloister, particularly the sculptures, were dismantled and preserved by the owners before being sold. Moreover, in his letter dated February 13, 1912, Emile Liau added that the owner was in Tarbes for a few days, which indicates that she did not actually live in Tarbes; perhaps the sculptures were moved into her house or to another warehouse before the Barnard acquisition.

The six capitals in the photographs serve as points of reference allowing us to identify a total of twelve, which, because of the common shape (of their impost, their basket, and their astragal), their common dimensions, the shared structure (the number of tiers), and their ornamentation, must also come from the Franciscan cloister (location in the Cloister museum—figures 9–10): capitals 25.120.741, 25.120.743, 25.120.744, 25.120.745, 25.120.746, 25.120.747, 25.120.749, 25.120.755, 25.120.756, 25.120.758, 25.120.761 (some of them are in the storerooms).

Location: The capitals from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes at the Cloisters

Elements from the Cordeliers de Tarbes in the North arcade of Trie cloister

Fig. 9: Elements from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes in the North arcade of Trie cloister. © C. Brugeat

Elements from the Cordeliers de Tarbes in the Bonnefont cloister

Fig. 10: Elements from the Franciscan monastery of Tarbes in the Bonnefont cloister. © C. Brugeat

But how had the Franciscan monastery at Tarbes fallen into ruins and become subject to sale?

II. The Franciscan Monastery from its foundation to its destruction

The first mention of the Franciscans monastery of Tarbes, an important city under the control of the counts of Bigorre and its bishop, dates from 1285.15 Probably, the community of the monks came in Tarbes around 1260, when the Franciscan movement expanded in the region.16 The monastery was located outside the walls of the city, in the modest faubourg of Maubourguet, and encircled by two channels.17

Though the mission of the Franciscan friars focused on the poor, we know that members of the powerful viscounts of Lavedan family18 were the benefactors of the monastery and were buried in its church.19

During the Wars of Religions,20 particularly between 1567 and 1594, Tarbes, at the border of the protestant Bearn and the catholic Gascony21 was besieged more than four times. In 1569, Gabriel I, count of Montgomery, and his army used the church of the Franciscans for protestant worship,22 but when they left, the protestant troops burned the monastery and other religious institutions of Tarbes. In 1577, the Franciscans received funds from the County of Bigorre for the restoration of their monastery.23 Judging from a description of 1644 from Leon Godeffroy, the cloister had survived the fire.24

Even before the French Revolution, the monastery began to be used for public gatherings. In 1789, the monastery was acquired by the General Council of the Department (regional government) and was used as tribunal.25 In 1792 the monastery was sold to a private citizen, M. Lacay, and the church was transformed into a stable.26 A year later the monastery served as a jail,27 and later that year was again transformed into a weapons' foundry.28 A few years later, it reverted to private hands. Then, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the monastery seems to have been used by a garrison. In 1822, John-Claude Nattes, an English draughtsman,29 drew the remains of the Franciscan monastery: the church and the cloister still standing with its open arcade. (figures 11–12).30

Drawing from      Drawing from

Figure 11 and 12: Two drawings from "Restes de l'église des Cordeliers à Tarbes." May 14, 1822. Drawing of John-Claude Nattes. From the Album Views from Nature Musée Pyrénéen de Lourdes. E.1901 Q 2 © Coll. Musée Pyrénéen. Ville de Lourdes. Photograph of the church © A.D.H.-P. Fonds Louis Caddau. Published on the website of the commune of Loucrup

Later, the monastery was acquired by the Colomes de Juillan family who used the church as a stable (figure 13) and the monastery as a warehouse for the Carrere Hotel. In the photographs we can observe that the arches of the cloister were still standing and, meanwhile, filled.

The nave Church used as a stable

Figure 13: The nave Church used as a stable

The owners sold the land in 1907 to a hotel company and the remains of the monastery were completely destroyed in order to allow space for the Hotel des Ambassadeurs (figure 14). Barnard's purchase occurred five years later, in 1912.

The Hotel des Ambassadeurs on the location of convent, around 1908

Figure 14: The Hotel des Ambassadeurs on the location of the monastery, around 1908. © Website of the commune of Loucrup

The successive changes that the monastic complex underwent in times of religious and political strife over the centuries brought about the gradual abandonment and loss of its cloister. Private owners adapted the building to purely pragmatic purposes, with no sense of its historic importance. With his acquisition, Barnard gave new life to the rich and tragic history of the Franciscan cloister of Tarbes. Preserved, studied, and restored, it finds its place again as a treasure of French medieval architecture at The Cloisters.


Bibliography

Guillaume Mauran, Sommaire description du pais et comte de Bigorre: chronique inédite.1614. Publiée pour la Société historique de Gascogne par Gaston Balencie. Ed. H. Champion.Paris, 1887. p. 248

Abbé Colomez, Histoire de la Province et comté de Bigorre, written around 1735 and  published by F. Duffau. Reprod. en fac-sim. de l'éd. de Paris, H. Champion, Tarbes, J.-P. Larrieu, 1886.Edited. Marseille, Laffite. 1978. p. 285

Charles Dupouex, "Ce qui reste des Anciens couvents de Tarbes". Revue d'Aquitaine et du Languedoc. Volume 2. 1857. pp. 533–37

Charles Berliat-Saint-Prix, La Justice Révolutionnaire Aout 1792. Prairial an III d’après les documents originaux. Vol 1. Paris, ed. Cosse et J. Dumaine. 2ed édition. 1870. p. 490 

Charles Durier, Les Huguenots en Bigorre: documents inédits. Textnoted by J. de Carsalade du Pont. Paris: Honoré Chamion, Auch, Cocharaux.1884. p. 281

Léon Godefroy, Voyages de Léon Godefroy en Gascogne, Bigorre et Bearn: 1644–1646, published and noted by Louis Batcave. Pau. Ed Vignancour. 1899. p. 47

Abbot Louis Ricaud, "l'Arsenal de Tarbes pendant la Révolution." Revue des Hautes-Pyrenees. Tarbes. 1906. pp. 204–209

Clément Larrieu, "Chronique," Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées. Volume 2. Tarbes. 1907. p. 158

Louis Caddau, "L'Hôtel moderne et le Couvent des Cordeliers." Revue des Hautes-Pyrenees, 1908. p. 314

Eugene Lafforgue, Histoire de l'ancien couvent et de l'église des Carmes de Tarbes, Tarbes 1923, p. 77

Abbé J. Francez, "Notes et documents sur les Cordeliers de Tarbes," Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées. Tarbes. 1934, p. 26

Yvette Carbonell-Lamothe, "Les établissements franciscains de Gascogne vers 1300," dans La naissance et l'essor du gothique méridional au XIIIe siècle. Cahier de Fanjeaux,  no 9. Toulouse: Privat, 1974. pp.165–184

Maurice Berthe, Histoire de Tarbes. Tarbes. Edition Marrimpouey. 1975. p. 401

Chanoine Jean-Baptiste Laffon, Histoire et vie d'une paroisse de Tarbes : Saint-Jean. Tarbes. Edition Marrimpouey. 1977. p. 136

Elie de Comminges, "Y a-t-il des chapiteaux du cloitre de Bonnefont au Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York?" Revue de Comminges. 4eme trimestre. 1980 pp. 581–603

Chanoine Jean-Baptiste Laffon and Jean-François Soulet (under the direction), Histoire de Tarbes. 2nd ed. Roanne. Horvath, 1982. p. 453

Jacques Léon Godechot, Histoire provinciale de la Révolution française: La Révolution française dans le Midi toulousain. Tome 1. Privat. 1986. p. 320

Christine Bonneton, Bigorre. Paris.1988

José-Ramon Cubéro, La Révolution en Bigorre: Lourdes, la Bigorre, la Révolution. Toulouse. Privat. 1989. p. 191

Catherine Vincent, Tarbes au Moyen Age: Etude  monumentale du XIIe au XV e siècle. Thèse d'art et archéologie de 3e cycle sous la direction de Madame Michèle Pradalier-Schlumberger. Université de Toulouse 2 – Le Mirail. 2000. 3 vol. p. 943


Acknowledgements

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Peter Barnet, Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
Barbara D. Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
Lucretia Kargere, Conservator
Emeline Baude, Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Fellow (2010–2011)
Nancy Wu, Museum Educator
Michael Carter, Assistant Museum Librarian
Christine McDermott, Coordinator for Administration
Marcie J. Karp, Senior Manager of Academic Programs
Hannah Kinney, Education Programs Associate
Erica Lohe, Education Programs Associate

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Jack Hinton, Assistant Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture
Susan K. Anderson, the Martha Hamilton Morris Archivist

Annette Kade Charitable Trust
François Giustiniani, Director of the Archives of Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarbes
Pascale Martinez, Archives of Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarbes
Mrs.  Agnes Mengelle, Director of the Musee Pyreneen, Lourdes
Dr. Nelly Pousthomis-Dalle, Professor in History of Medieval Art, University of Toulouse-Le Mirail
Dr. Christophe Balagna, Lecturer in History of Art, Institut Catholique of  Toulouse
Mr. Cathelain, teacher in the school of Loucrup, Hautes-Pyrénées


Footnotes

[1] The elements were gathered by Barnard but not assembled together in a set. They were scattered in the Barnard museum.

[2] Joseph Breck. The Cloisters, a brief guide. New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1926. p. 38

[3] George Grey Barnard papers. In the Archives of Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, quoted by Elie de Comminges, "Y a-t-il des chapiteaux du cloitre de Bonnefont au Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York?", Revue de Comminges. 4eme trimestre. 1980. pp. 581–603.

[4] Joseph Breck. The Cloisters, a brief guide. New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1927. p. 38

[5] Linda Papanicolaou, "Marble columns and Elginist," The Bonnefont Cloister in New York, June 29, 1971 (inédit), p. 39, note 7. (Note du catalogue, 1927) mentioned by Elie de Comminges, "Y a-t-il des chapiteaux du cloitre de Bonnefont au Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York?", Revue de Comminges. 4 eme trimestre. 1980 pp. 581–603.

[6] The research of the origins of the Bonnefont cloister is led with the collaboration with Emeline Baude, Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Fellow.

[7] Here are presented the scans of the original negatives.

[8] George grey Barnard Papers: 1895–1941. Series IV. The Cloisters/Collections. Date 1907–1938. Box 25. Folder 14. Negatives, unidentified, nd. Eight negatives. Archives of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

[9] George Grey Barnard Papers: 1895–1941. Series V. Business and Financial records. Date 1903–1940. Box 26. Folder 21. Studio supplies dates: 1898–1932.

[10] "Antiquarian" is a generic word to designate his various activities. It seems that he acted as an art dealer.

[11] Tarbes is a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénées department in southwestern France. It is part of the historical region of Gascony. It is the second-largest metropolitan area of Midi-Pyrénées.

[12] Letter from Emile Liau to Georges Grey Barnard. Tarbes, February 13, 1912. George Grey Barnard Papers. Series V. Business and Financial records. Date 1903–1940. Box 26. Folder 21. Studio supplies dates: 1898–1932

[13] Collected by Louis Caddau, architect of the historical monuments. Louis Caddau realized works, researches and publications about many monasteries of the region and particularly Larreule, Trie-en-Bigorre, Saint-Sever-de-Rustan abbeys, some of whose remains are preserved in the Cloisters museum.

[14] A. P. M. A.George Grey Barnard Papers: 1895–1941. Series IV. The Cloisters/Collections. Date 1907–1938. Box 25. Folder 14. Negatives – unidentified, nd.

[15] Now, at the Northwest corner of Maubourguet place.

[16] See Yvette Carbonell-Lamothe, « Les établissements franciscains de Gascogne vers 1300 », dans La naissance et l'essor du gothique méridional au XIIIe siècle. Cahier de Fanjeaux, no 9. Toulouse: Privat, 1974. pp.165–184.

[17] Some decisions were acted in the cloister of the minor brothers of Tarbes. Archives of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, E. 370, archival material quoted by Laffon (J.-B), Soulet (J.-F), op. cit. p. 40. note 3 -Abbé J. Francez. "Notes et documents sur les Cordeliers de Tarbes." Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées, 1934, p. 26.

[18] At the beginning of the tenth century, the viscunty of Lavedan was created by the Count of Bigorre for his sons. See Guillaume Mauran, Sommaire description du païs et comté de Bigorre: chronique inédite. Publiée pour la Société historique de Gascogne par Gaston Balencie. H. Champion. Paris, 1887.

[19] In 1250, Franciscan orders were permitted by the Pope to bury laypeople, which became an important source of income. See Ihlein-Anglezio, Mireille, "Le couvent des Cordeliers d'Auch". Bulletin de la Société Archéologique, historique, litteraire et scientifique du Gers. 2eme trimestre 2005, pp.155–171, p. 160 ; 3eme trimestre. 2005, pp. 279–294, p. Coll. Laffon (J.-B), Soulet (J.-F) op. cit. 1975. p. 471

[20] About the wars of religion in Bigorre, see Charles Durier, Les Huguenots en Bigorre. Laffon (J.-B), Soulet (J.-F) (under the direction), op. cit., p.101.

[21] Also, it was hardly defended because of the extent of the city.

[22] Abbé Colomez, Histoire de la Province et comté de Bigorre, Lafitte Reprints, 1735 (réimpr. 1978), p. 102.

[23] "Rubrique: l'extraordinaire. (…) Aux religieux cordeliers de Tarbe, pour la restauration du couvent a esté donné…15 l.", "Rôle des impositions des Etats du Comté de Bigorre: Estat et assiette du païs et comté de Bigorre cotisé en l'assemblée des gens des estats d'iceluy, a Tarbe, le 6e, 7e, 8e, et 9e janvier 1577, par devant M. le seneschal." Archives communal de Vic-Bigorre, AA. 2 in Archives historiques de la Gascogne, Vol 3 à 4, Société archéologique de Gascogne. 1883. p. 227. The same sum was given to the Carmelites.

[24] Léon Godefroy. Voyages de Léon Godefroy en Gascogne, Bigorre et Bearn: 1644–1646, published and noted by Louis Batcave. Pau. Ed Vignancour. 1899. p. 31

[25] Jacques Léon Godechot. Histoire provinciale de la Révolution française: La Révolution française dans le Midi toulousain. Tome 1. Privat. 1986. p.137

[26] « Le 20 décembre 1792, le Directoire du département indiquait la destination des maisons nationales. Les Cordeliers étaient vendus à Lacay mais occupés par le tribunal et un corps de garde de troupes de ligne (…) alors que l'église servait d'écurie », José-Ramon Cubéro, La Révolution en Bigorre : Lourdes, la Bigorre, la Révolution. 1989. p. 193

[27] Letter dated May 7, 1793, Tarbes, published in the Moniteur and quoted by Charles Berliat-Saint-Prix in la Justice Révolutionnaire Aout 1792. Prairial an III d'après les documents originaux. Vol 1. Paris, ed. Cosse et J. Dumaine. 2ed édition. 1870. p. 338.

[28] Abbot Louis Ricaud, "l'Arsenal de Tarbes pendant la Révolution". Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées. Tarbes. 1906. pp. 204–209. p. 206.

[29] John Claude Nattes was a English watercolourist and topographical draughtsman with French origins

[30] "Restes de l'église des Cordeliers à Tarbes". 19 mai 1822. Drawing of Nattes John Claude. The Album Views from Nature. Musée Pyrénéen de Lourdes. Fonds: E.1901 Q 2. Musée Pyrénéen de Lourdes. (29.5 x 23 cm) Charles Dupouex. "ce qui reste des Anciens couvents de Tarbes". Revue d'Aquitaine et du Languedoc. volume 2. 1857. pp 533–537.

[31] Charles Dupouex. "ce qui reste des Anciens couvents de Tarbes". Revue d'Aquitaine et du Languedoc. volume 2. 1857. pp 533–537.

[32] Charles Dupouex. op. cit. p.536

[33] Louis Caddau. « L'Hotel moderne et le Couvent des Cordeliers ». Revue des Hautes-Pyrenees. 1908. p. 314

[34] These modifications were added maybe by the garrison or by the Colomes de Juillan family. See note 14.

[35] Clément Larrieu. « Chronique », Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées. Volume 2. Tarbes. 1907. p. 158

[36] Only a part of the tower remains today. Abbe Louis Ricaud, "l'Arsenal de Tarbes pendant la Révolution". Revue des Hautes-Pyrénées. Tarbes. 1906. pp. 204–209

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About the Author

Céline Brugeat was the 2011–2012 Annette Kade Fellow in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters.

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