In 1988, The Cloisters celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as a branch museum of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Devoted to the art of medieval Europe, The Cloisters is a twentieth-century museum designed in a style evocative of medieval architecture. Its combination of medieval and modern architectural elements, organized around arcades of five medieval cloisters, creates a unique and sympathetic context for the exhibition of sculpture, metalwork, textiles, and painting. This contextual approach has been enormously influential in introducing medieval art to the American public. The opportunity for both visitor and scholar to examine works of art in evocative settings has informed and inspired viewers since the Museum's opening in 1938. The collection continues to grow in a wide-ranging fashion, as exemplified by the recently acquired Langobardic reliefs and fourteenth-century stained glass from the Austrian castle chapelat Ebreichsdorf, which are examined here.
A two-day scholarly symposium marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Cloisters, bringing together fifteen distinguished scholars from Europe and North America. Jointly sponsored by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Center of Medieval Art, the symposium offered discussions of The Cloisters' history as well as concise papers emphasizing new research on specific works of art in the collection. Keynote papers by Ilene H. Forsyth and Willibald Sauerlander presented provocative critical reviews of the present state of research on Romanesque and Gothic art—the predominant strengths of the collection. Their appraisals and proposals for new directions of research confirm the rapidly changing and challenging state of medieval art scholarship. Symposium participants have revised their papers for publication, and contributions by members of the Museum's staff have been added. The twenty-two studies presented in this commemorative volume demonstrate the methodological diversity confronting the field of medieval art history. As a group, they offer an extraordinary tribute to the significance of The Cloisters Collection.