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Medieval New York



Describing Manhattan as "Medieval" as I have in the title to this article, will no doubt seem highly inaccurate. New York City is usually thought of as reflecting the most modern of man's accomplishments. Its characteristic architecture, although derived from many sources and ages, is dominated by twentieth century art forms. But journeying on foot through its several boroughs and thousands of streets, I have discovered the lesser known corners and alleys where are perfectly preserved the spirit and forms of the architecture of bygone centuries. It may require the imagination of the photographer and the magic of the camera to transform what appears to be a prosaic, sometimes grim sight into an inspiring picture of beauty reminiscent of the Medieval Age.

Such was my experience one bright Spring day, while exploring the grounds that surround the Cathedral of St. John the Divine situated in uptown Manhattan. The park contains many buildings and monuments which reflect the influence of the Medieval epoch, not to mention the cathedral itself which upon completion will represent one of the finest examples of church architecture in our country.

I secured many fine photographs that day, but my best results were obtained quite by accident. Crossing a space between two buildings, I almost stumbled over a small bird bath in the center of which was set a small standing figure of the Saint known as St. Francis of Assisi. Time had eroded the figure, so as to bring into prominence the coarse materials of which it was cast. Over the head of the Saint gracefully arched several fronds of a rose bush.

I recognized in the scene a spiritual completeness. Humble St. Francis with arms outstretched in a humble setting. The composition I obtained is reproduced here.

Upon another occasion, I inspected the wonderful Medieval remains at the Cloisters, in Fort Tryon Park along the Hudson River. Many hundreds of fine photographs have been taken at this site, originally gathered from several European ruins. Every angle and arched walk of the building recreates the atmosphere of the medieval period. It was only after I left the museum and turned around to look at its exterior from a distance, that I secured my most interesting photograph.

I also discovered a charming Medieval setting in South Brooklyn not far from Borough Hall. The red brick houses are very old and have seen more prosperous days. Where Henry St. meets Verandah Walk a row of picturesque old houses face a narrow alley.From the deep South, Thomas Wolfe, the author, came to live in one of them and write of what he saw. From a window in the apartment he occupied a fine view can be obtained of a perfect reproduction of a 16th century bell tower. The church it was formerly part of is in disrepair. Attracted by the picturesque neighborhood, artists and writers have formed a colony and the tower has become the subject for some of their work.

Thus we see the Art forms that dominated Medieval Europe around us today, in the greatest city of the modern world. Far from being Museum objects, subjects of study by experts alone, they are part of the fabric of our daily existance.

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