High atop a hill at the northern tip of Manhattan Island stands the Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art of the middle ages. Constructed in the early 20th century, the fortress-like building was inspired by medieval structures. The setting, structure and core of the collection were gifts from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to the people of New York.
This building incorporates chapels, halls, rooms and architectural elements from Europe. The ancient stone portals, windows, columns and fountains allow many of the items on display to be shown in settings similar to their original situations. Visitors don’t simply view a wooden crucifix hanging against a white gallery wall; they see it displayed in a stone chapel, illuminated by sunbeams streaming through stained glass windows.
The museum also features three enclosed gardens, including an herb garden containing more than 250 species that were grown during the Middle Ages. The plants, grown in beds and large pots, are grouped by their intended use: household, medicinal, aromatic, kitchen and seasoning, salads and vegetables, plants used by artists, magic plants, those associated with love and marriage.
The most famous work in the Cloisters is the Unicorn Tapestries, a series of Belgian textiles portraying a party of nobles hunting and capturing the mythical creature. The collection also includes stained-glass windows, metalwork, sculpture, painting, liturgical miniatures, enamels, jewelry and of course, cloisters.