The Cloisters Audio Guide comprises interviews with curators, conservators, and educators. Medieval music on the Audio Guide reflects the time and adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Available in English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
Listen to a sample of The Cloisters Audio Guide program.
The Cloisters derives its name from the elements of five medieval cloisters that have been integrated into the design of the Museum. Three of these have been reconstituted as complete, four-sided cloisters. Of these, this one, from the monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, is the best known. The abbey of Cuxa was founded in 878 in the eastern Pyrenees by Benedictine monks from a nearby monastery that was destroyed by an avalanche. The new monastery was dedicated to Saint Michael, the warrior archangel.
The Cuxa cloister was built in the twelfth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, George Grey Barnard acquired approximately half of the dispersed capitals for his collection, which forms the core of The Cloisters today. This dictated that the dimensions of the Cuxa cloister be smaller than the original cloister at Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa—the original was four times the size you see here. The sequence in which the capitals are presented here is hypothetical.
The columns and capitals are all carved from the pink-veined marble taken from quarries near Cuxa. When the Museum was ready to install the Cuxa cloister, these quarries were reopened, so that the same pink marble could be used to make the new architectural elements as in the original twelfth-century elements. Some of the capitals are carved with designs evoking palmettes, vine scrolls, pine cones, or acanthus leaves. Figurative capitals show lions rearing and gnashing their teeth or devouring humans, ribald apes and mermaids, men grasping eagles or blowing horns, and several varieties of infernal beasts.
In 1125 Bernard, abbot of the new Cistercian monastery at Clairveaux, ridiculed the excesses of architectural detail similar to the ones you see here in the Cuxa cloister. To hear an excerpt of this diatribe, please press the green play button now.
Learn more about The Cloisters museum and gardens.