As someone who has loved art history and art museums my entire life, it excited me to no end that I would have a free museum with Monets and Warhols at my doorstep. I’ve gone to the Princeton University Art Museum more than your average student has, since I was in a freshman seminar that took place literally within the galleries during fall semester. I’ve wandered through all the displays, gazed at all the artwork on view (and some pieces behind-the- scenes). But my most magical moments at the museum have been in the Medieval Art gallery.
This gallery looks markedly different from the others at the museum. The stark whiteness of the room immediately strikes you. It reminds me of what believers imagine heaven looks like—full of light, demanding reverence. The decorative marble staircase, the arched stained glass windows, the elaborately carved columns all bring back an era of romantic artistry. There’s devotion in the religious panels that give splashes of color to the walls. There’s mystery: the tomb sculpture of a Spanish knight of unknown identity. And magic: the two painted sculptures, a monk and a knight who have a gleam in their eyes like they’re about to come alive.
It’s December, and I’m at the Student Advisory Board Gala at the art museum. It’s themed “Salon Cezanne” but here I am in this room—in the Middle Ages, far from the abstractions of Cezanne. I’m in a black lace dress and heels and I sit down on the old wooden bench for my friend to take a picture. But there shouldn’t be a camera, and I shouldn’t be in these clothes. I feel my mind slipping away. Now I’m wearing a gown woven with the greatest intricacy, in a dark-paneled room lined with tapestries, in a castle full of marble staircases, in a world resounding with the clang of swords and the tales of knights and the prayers sent up frantically to God.
I sigh as my friend and I join the rest of the crowd in the central gallery. The real world, where schoolwork and stress await me once I get back to my dorm. But it’s reassuring that behind me is a fantasy world I have always dreamed of entering—one I know I can always return to.