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Cloister with Elements from the Abbey of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines

Artist/maker unknown, French

Made in Roussillon, France, Europe

1270-1280s, with medieval elements from southwestern France and modern additions


Adam and Eve Capital: 9 1/2 × 13 3/4 × 13 3/4 inches (24.1 × 34.9 × 34.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 304, European Art 1100-1500, third floor (Knight Foundation Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with funds contributed by Elizabeth Malcolm Bowman in memory of Wendell Phillips Bowman, 1928

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At the heart of every medieval monastery stood a cloister, an arcaded walkway surrounding a courtyard. The Museum’s cloister is modeled after a thirteenth-century example at the Abbey of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines in the Roussillon region of southwestern France, and includes sculpture originally from the abbey, contemporary elements from the province, and early-twentieth-century reproduction carvings.

Medieval cloisters served both practical and spiritual purposes. Most were open air, often with a garden in the courtyard. A ninth-century architectural drawing known as the Plan of Saint Gall, which is considered a blueprint of the ideal monastic compound, features a large, centrally located cloister that would have been reserved for the monks. At Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, the outer walkway held doors that opened into the dining hall, the chapter house (where the abbey was administered), and the church. In addition to functioning as a connecting space, the courtyard and its colonnade were used by the religious community for processions, services, and communal readings. The cloister also provided an area where individual monks could engage in private prayer and contemplation.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    A medieval cloister, an arcaded walkway surrounding an open courtyard, was usually a space at the heart of a monastery where a variety of highly regulated events in the lives of members of the religious order took place, including silent prayer, meditation, or reading aloud from holy books. The design for this cloister installed in the Museum is based on that at Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines in southwestern France, the source of some of the Museum's cloister capitals. In the center of the cloister stands a rare Romanesque fountain known to have come from Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, the largest monastery in the eastern Pyrenees. The massive basin of the fountain is decorated with a continuous design of arches on columns that echo the elements of the cloister itself. Fountains served a variety of practical purposes in monasteries, such as providing water for shaving or washing clothes. Transplanted to a museum, the fountain and its cloister setting afford modern-day visitors a space for quiet thought. Eda Diskant, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p.109.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.