"The Human in Captivity" A juxtaposition between the art within the Cloisters in New York City and the architecture of the Cloisters itself

Essay by prestopastaUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2002

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"... In the Middle Ages there was a hierarchic ensemble of places: sacred places and profane places; protected places and open, exposed places ... It was this complete hierarchy, this opposition, this intersection of places that constituted what could be very roughly be called medieval space: the space of emplacement" (Of Other Spaces, Foucault 22).

The Cloisters, a division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Fort Tryon Park, poses an interesting juxtaposition--a roughly hewn building of stone nestled in the midst of an open and organic natural space. This arrangement brings to mind the true cloisters of medieval times. By definition, a cloister refers to an architectural feature. It is literally an open aired walkway around an interior quadrangle, many times occupied by a garden. Historically, however, these cloisters were used often in monasteries and convents where the religious inhabitants were secluded from the outside world. Thus, the word cloister became associated with the secluded monastery that the Cloisters museum imitates today.

In the quote above, Michael Foucault comments briefly on the hierarchy of medieval space in his article Of Other Spaces. The medieval cloister does not stray from the concept of the hierarchy. It is one of the sacred and protected places, in direct opposition to the profane and open, exposed places Foucault speaks of. Although there is a certain degree of comfort in an enclosed and protected space, there is also the inevitable sense of enclosure and captivity. From aspects as massive as the Cloister's architecture as a whole to details such as the artwork contained within its walls, the theme of captivity is always prominent.

As Foucault states, everything in medieval society had its place. The cloisters were a place of religious seclusion and reflection for the brothers and sisters of the Church to live...