Money, Morality, and the Preservation of Beauty

In relocating ancient treasures, are we truly seeking to preserve historic objects for posterity or are we selfishly hoping to acquire objects of foreign beauty for our own enjoyment? In a debate that considers both money and morality, I find it hard to justify that it is our moral side driving these foreign acquisitions. While seeking out beautiful things is not a folly, it is erroneous to believe that money entitles one to beautiful things that another person or place holds in its possession.

However, money and morality are not always applied in isolation of each other. In some instances, it is the moral drive to preserve beauty coupled with the monetary capital to fund the act of preservation that results in the successful acquisition and transportation of treasures. The Cloisters located in Washington Heights and operated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an example of such. Comprised of precious artifacts from religious monasteries in Europe, the Cloisters in New York were constructed to preserve artifacts that were degrading due to lack of upkeep. While, these treasures have been taken from their context of creation, they were not robbed.

Funded primarily by John D. Rockefeller, the Cloisters exemplify the positive outcome of artifact relocation. Salvaging pieces of history that would have been destroyed from neglect, the Cloisters now function as a cultural and educational center. The respectful structure is renown for its beauty and tranquility. Home to the The Unicorn in Captivity tapestry, which is famously featured in Harry Potter, as well as to well-curated small-scale exhibitions, the Cloisters is both familiar to a repeat visitor and intellectually surprising.

From my beginnings in high school art history, the Merode Altarpiece, which is housed at the museum, has been a source of inspiration. The Deutsch masterpiece is revolutionary for its time and remarkable for its high degree of religious symbolism. The presence of the altarpiece at the Cloisters is more than fitting; it functions both as an educational tool and a source of intellectual inquiry. Thematically linked with its surroundings, the altarpiece is both enhanced by and enhances its surroundings.

In totality, the Cloisters promotes the production of artistic beauty, highlights the ingenuity of the Medieval Era, and champions the need to preserve past great works.


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