French or Spanish; From the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa (modern France)
90 ft. x 78 ft. (2,743 x 2,377 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1925 (25.120.398,.399,.452)
The cloister, a square garden court surrounded by a covered walkway, was a central feature of the medieval monastery. The pink marble columns and capitals here come from the twelfth-century cloister of the once prosperous abbey at Cuxa, in the eastern Pyrenees. The heavy capitals are carved with vegetal and animal forms, many of them fanciful and even humorous to the modern eye. The exuberant ornament of the capitals seems to depart from the solemn restraint of monastic life. Although some medieval reformers, such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, deplored such decoration as superfluous and distracting to meditation, many scholars today trace it to the imaginative energy of medieval artists as well as monastic patrons.