Cluny … Paris … Museum of the Middle Ages …

In the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter – only a stone’s throw from Place Saint-Michel – is the Musée (Museum) de Cluny. If you are a history buff or like to transported back to the Middle Ages – 5th-10th century – or the Romanesque Era – 11th and 12th century – or the Gothic Era […]

Cluny from Place (square) Paul-Painleve

In the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter – only a stone’s throw from Place Saint-Michel – is the Musée (Museum) de Cluny. If you are a history buff or like to transported back to the Middle Ages – 5th-10th century – or the Romanesque Era – 11th and 12th century – or the Gothic Era – 12th-14th century – then this is a “must”.

Cluny is housed in two historical buildings.

One is the Gallo-Roman thermal baths of the Roman city of Lutetia where the Gallic Parisii tribe lived: it is on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Michel (Boul-Mich as Parisians call it) and Boulevard Saint-Germain.

The other is the Hôtel de Cluny built in the late 15th century for Jacques d’Amboise (1440 or 1450-1516), the abbot of Cluny in Burgundy. At the time of its construction it was a most modern private mansion. (Hôtel does not mean the same in France as it does elsewhere: here it is also designates a large private mansion.)

The mansion had become the private home of the archaeologist and collector of art objects, Alexandre du Sommerard (1779-1842).

In 1843 the French state took over the mansion as well as Du Sommerard’s collection of art objects, many of which he had saved from destruction during the French Revolution. Adding the thermal baths to the mansion, the French state founded the Musée de Cluny in that year.

Over time the French state added to Sommerard’s collection and today each of its 23 rooms is filled with the most beautiful historical objects.

So what can you see in the museum?

To begin with the building.

There is the vaulted Frigidarium or cold room of the thermal baths.

Then there are the old stone staircases and the old stone spooky sepulchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wooden scultpure of Christ on Donkey dating from 1480/1490

There are the 14th and 15th century sculptures, painted altar pieces, chapel benches, icons, enamels, books, candlesticks, gold crucifixes, furniture, wall decorations, a fireplace, garments, jewelry, games, weapons and suits of armor, and paintings.

12th century sculpture in wood of Christ on the Cross

 

 

 

The Pieta of Tarascon dating from before 1457

 

And in a circular room is exhibited the 6 Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

The 15th century tapestries woven in Flanders were discovered in 1841 by Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870), the archaeologist, historian and inspector-general of historical monuments, and his friend the writer Amandine Lucille Aurore Dupin better known as George Sand (1804-1876) when the two of were staying in the 15th century Castle (Château) of Boussac in central France. (Mérimée was also a dramatist and short story writer : his novella Carmen was transformed by Bizet into his opera Carmen.

A circular room for the Lady and the Licorne tapestries

The tapestries depict the five senses – taste, hearing, sight, smell and touch. As for the 6th on it is woven the words Mon Seul Désir – My only desire – which is interpreted as representing a 6th sense – emotion.

 

 

 

 

 

Smell

 

 

 

 

Cluny is open every day except Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5.45 p.m. It costs an adult €8 ($10.50 / £6.50) to go in.

The closest Metro (underground railroad) station is Cluny-La Sorbonne. You can also descend at Saint-Michel station and walk up Boul’Mich. It’s a very nice walk.

When you get to the thermal ruin on the corner of Boul’Mich and Saint-Germain continue to walk left along Saint-Germain and you turn right into the first street on the right (Rue de Cluny) and continue to walk to Place (Square) Paul Painlevé. Cluny is on the square at number 6 – and you will not be able to miss it. It’s in the 5th arrondissement.

Judas' kiss that betrayed Christ - 16th century sculpture

You are allowed to take photos in the museum. By the way one is allowed to take photos in all of France’s museums, but only of the objects on permanent display.

Headless sculptures

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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