Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

The Cloisters

clarsen's picture


    My mother introduced me to art after she and my father got divorced thinking it would be a therapeutic and meaningful way for me to release my feelings.  As a toddler, she ensured we visited MOMA, The MET, El Museo del Barrio, The Guggenheim, and The Museum of Natural History often.  My favorite by far, however, was The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and home to one of the largest medieval art collections in the world.  I spent the majority of my childhood living in Washington Heights where The Cloisters was located.  Manhattan, to me, is synonymous with medieval art and more specifically with the works exhibited at The Cloisters. 

   Although I was born in Midtown Manhattan, I soon after moved to Texas with my mother and father.  After they divorced, however, my mother and I moved uptown to Washington Heights where I made some of my earliest memories and experiences with New York City.  My favorite event by far was “The Medieval Festival”, hosted by The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, where I saw jousting, puppet shows, jesters, and live music.  It was certainly the flame that ignited my love of medieval festivities and art. 

   The Cloisters building is a mixture of Gothic architecture, predominantly castle-like and monastery or cloister-like, and is located in the Washington Heights and Inwood section of upper Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River.  The highest tower stands majestically atop the trees of Fort Tryon Park and was visible from my living room window down on Broadway.  I viewed the “castle” as an extremely magical yet somber escape from the busy and noisy streets where we lived.   My favorite work by far on display at The Cloisters was The Unicorn Tapestries.  Twelve feet by fourteen feet, they towered mightily and elegantly above me and told the fantastical story of a unicorn brutally captured and murdered at the hands of the royal arms. 

   While visiting The Cloisters a few months ago with my mother, for what must have been the hundredth time, we couldn’t help but discuss what a blessing it was that these magnificent tapestries have been preserved throughout history.   Created over five hundred years ago, the tapestries have passed through thousands of hands and yet remain in incredibly fine condition.  Where patches became needed, they are flawlessly mended.  Of course, many other tapestries from the same time have survived but none with such quality, creativity, imagination, and design.  Few are as memorable as the story told in these seven tapestries.

   People travel all over the world to visit The Cloisters and more specifically these remarkable tapestries.  In my opinion the artwork exhibited is far more rewarding than visiting Times Square or the Empire State Building.  I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to be raised in New York City and given the opportunity to visit some of the finest museums in the world.  I feel my relationship to the city is tied very close to its artwork and it has taught me where my passions and strengths lie.  My dream is to one day curate artwork for a gallery or museum in New York.