Now more than ever, you are needed to donate your old blankets, towels, and sheets to your local animal shelter. With financial cut-backs, repairs on shelters are often put off, so if it's drafty, the animals suffer. I know my shelter uses rags to stuff under doors. No kidding! Empty out those closets... this is your chance to get rid of stuff and do something useful!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dogs At The Cloisters

There is a wonderful place on the northern tip of Manhattan called The Cloisters.  It was the labor of love and gift to the public of sculpture and avid collector George Grey Barnard and the eventual permanent gift to the public of John D. Rockefeller, not a bad collector himself, who added much to Barnard's original collection as well as the actual site as we know it today. Today The Cloisters is unparalleled in the Western Hemisphere for works of Romanesque and Gothic medieval sculpture, architecturally important medieval works, illuminated manuscripts, various ivories, paintings, metal-work pieces, and the renowned Unicorn Tapestries. There is a true Treasury (or Treasure Room, as some cathedrals and notable old churches are known to have,) filled with exquisitely made objects used in Masses, and in the personal worship of wealthy families who had them commissioned. To be there is to step out of our time and into another. Walking through the "cloisters" (literally brought brick and column from France to the United States) gives as close a feeling as possible to living in a cloistered community as one can have, I think, without actually being in one.

I know this sounds quirky, and it is, but when I walk up the stone stairs (that dip in the middle from many years of use) to the admissions desk, I feel as though I am entering my own house and I just happen to house all this beautiful art!  But I get off the topic...

Getting in is easy and organized. I feel this is worth noting because when one considers how much valuable and wonderful and priceless stuff is in the place, you would think a Fort Knox entry would be in order. But no; you pay, you get your Met pin, and you're in.  Great museum security is all around (in addition to the not-seen type, I'm certain), and they know the pieces and their importance. Last time I was trying to figure out the name of the third Wise Man and a security guy helped me figure out it was Caspar (after Melchior and Balthazar).  Once you check in, you walk down one spoke off the lobby and you are in a nave, like in a church and that church is filled with sculpture, altar pieces, architecturally interesting and notable works collected at some point in time but made in 1250 onward.  Above you, beneath you, and making up the walls are large stones unlike any that you see being used today. If there are some that were not brought over from France for the purpose of reassembling The Cloisters in Fort Tryon, New York in 1938, it is not obvious. You are immediately transported to a European monastery.

The artwork in the place is fabulous; lectures offered are interesting. I've been to one on the Cult of Medieval Saints and one on the Medieval Garden with my Mom, who's a Master Gardener. The Cloisters has an authentically medieval garden and I could tell she was impressed. There are so many minute details to notice about the place that one can probably find something new each time you go. I already have my favorite spots and I check on them as I do when I go to The Met (a.k.a. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which The Cloisters is a part, but which is located at Fifth Avenue and 84th Street), to make sure the Temple of Dendur has not gone anywhere and the Armor Hall hasn't been made off with.

At any rate, the purpose of this post is to show you the dogs pictured throughout The Cloisters and I've taken as many pictures of them as I could, even the ones the movie-set people were blocking off with their ubiquitous display of black cables, drapes, and can-lights that I see too often in New York City.

The first few pictures are of the outside of The Cloisters (a neat little window near the entrance to the garden, the West Terrace, which overlooks the Hudson River (and which you get to by turning a big iron door handle and push open the very heavy medieval-like door), and the somewhat more well-known outside view of the tower. The rest are of as many dogs as I could find in and amongst the artwork, which always please me so to find.   Enjoy! 

Dogs - you may know - in the world of art-as-meaningful expression of subject's life (and often in funerary sculpture,) represent loyalty and fidelity. Much better than cats. I'm sure some museum somewhere has an Inquisition exhibit and in that they have the cats.

Nevermind my magician-sawing-the-man-in-half act below; note the dog at the nobleman's feet. There is a tradition of having a "dog at one's feet" in funeral sculpture. It symbolizes feudal loyalty (for men's tombs) or marital fidelity (for women's tombs). That seems to let someone off the hook but we'll let that be someone else's post on another blog.

Below, Saint Rocco and his dog (or, a very nice picture of Saint Rocco's leg, and his dog). The quote next is from Wikipedia:
On the death of his parents in his twentieth year he distributed all his worldly goods among the poor like Francis of Assisi (to be noted later this week!)— though his father on his deathbed had ordained him governor of Montpellier— and set out as a mendicant pilgrim for Rome[8]. Coming into Italy during an epidemic of plague, he was very diligent in tending the sick in the public hospitals at Acquapendente, Cesena Rimini, Novara[9] and Rome, and is said to have effected many miraculous cures by prayer and the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. At Rome he preserved the "cardinal of Angleria in Lombardy"[10] by making the mark of the cross on his forehead, which miraculously remained (Legenda Aurea). Ministering at Piacenza he himself finally fell ill. He was expelled from the town; and withdrew into the forest, where he made himself a hut of boughs and leaves, which was miraculously supplied with water by a spring that arose in the place; he would have perished had not a dog belonging to a nobleman named Gothard Palastrelli supplied him with bread and licked his wounds, healing them. Count Gothard, following his hunting dog that carried the bread, discovered Saint Roch and became his acolyte.
Early 16th century France. Wood, polycromy, and gilding.

Workmanship throughout The Cloisters includes many details of hunt scenes. This "windowsill" from the 1400's depicts two dogs chasing a hare:

You may have heard of something called The Unicorn Tapestries.  While I don't show any pictures of unicorns, all the pictures of dogs are taken from the tapestries, which depict the hunt, capture, and taming of the unicorn.  There are many interpretations of this story, illustrated as it was in tapestries made in France in 1495-1505. Here's a snipet from the official website of The Cloisters:
The seven individual hangings known as "The Unicorn Tapestries," are among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive. Luxuriously woven in fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads, the tapestries vividly depict scenes associated with a hunt for the elusive, magical unicorn.
"The Unicorn in Captivity" may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. He is tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, but the chain is not secure and the fence is low enough to leap over: The unicorn could escape if he wished. Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank do not appear to be blood, as there are no visible wounds like those in the hunting series; rather, they represent juice dripping from bursting pomegranates above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of marriage and procreation: they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.

The tapestries ownership can be traced thus:
Comtes de La Rochefoucauld, France; François VI de La Rochefoucauld, Paris (in 1680); François VIII de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charante (until 1728); Château de Verteuil, Charante (said to have been looted in 1793); Comtes de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charante (in family again in 1856); Comte Aimery de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charante (until 1923); Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York (in 1923 through Edouard Larcade– until 1937)
Keep in mind this stuff was made on a loom! I don't know how many threads per square inch there are but the amazing details have held up nicely over six centuries! The rooms they are in are dimely lit, and in addition to the tapestries, there is a magnificent hearth-styled fireplace that you can stand inside of and still not touch the top.

Dogs chasing stag (this one is about 15 feet by 8 feet in size):

I thought this (below) was adorable! Somebody back then had a good sense of humor. I guess there would be reason to celebrate being out The Dark Ages.

Another one for marital fidelity (below):

Picture the above stained glass with the below image (a dog image I missed but noticed at home reading my Met book. The figures in the below stained glass are playing a courtship game called "quintain," a game developed from a tilting exercise for knights, the object of which was to topple your opponent).

Below are some non-dog things that I just had to share. My camera phone is filled with pictures from this incredible place.

The door below has an image on it that looks like a dog but it is infact a panther-like creature. The swirls coming out of its mouth depict a sweet smelling scent that lures its prey (or so the story goes).

Oh, the gift shop -- please.
Among the many wonderful and hard to find incredible art books, they have the following cool things I collect each time I go to The Cloisters (a girl can dream!)

And finally, if you ever go, look for this. Betcha can't find it!

This isn't bad, either:

This is a very fine piece, below.  Oh! This is from my house! Who is that crazy lady?