Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Cloisters

The way from 190th Street Station to the Cloisters lay through Fort Tryon Park. The Park had a collection of heather that was as showy as that subdued plant could be: quiet mauvre, obscure yellow and pale green. Perched on a hilltop below which the Hudson and a busy motorway ran, the park was named after the last British civil governor of Manhattan. Isn't that a strange choice of name?

The Cloisters itself was built, in the neo-medieval style, on the highest point in that area. I liked how the building incorporated into its own structure architectual elements from its collection. The Fuentiduena Chapel, with its high ceiling and half-barreled apse, was impressive.

During my visit, I was attracted to the silver-stained roundels in the Glass Gallery. The roundel pictures displayed a keen sense of drama, as well as composition in that tricky circular format. Besides the expected saints, martyrs, biblical characters, allegorical figures, there were two bare-breasted women holding heraldic shields.

In a diamond frame, outstanding among the nine roundels in its window, was a picture of three apes assembling a trestle table. Two apes were carrying the table top while waiting for the third to set up the second set of legs. What reinforced the sense of the picture's incongruity was the floor checkered in black and white, a touch that reminded me of modern visual trick-pictures or of surrealist paintings. What were those apes doing there among St. Jerome, courtly ladies, and the Virgin Mary? If they were a later addition, why add that touch of realism, a trestle table, as if the apes were setting up a table for a medieval feast? Curiouser.

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