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Cluny Museum, Paris

Ruins of 3rd-century Roman baths known as the Thermes de Cluny. The ruins are part of the Cluny Museum and may be visited. View all images in our Cluny Museum Photo Gallery.
Exterior view of the museum, built in 1485-1500 to house the powerful Abbots of Cluny when they were in Paris. Other occupants included the Bishop of Clermont and Mary Tudor. The Gothic building…
Exterior view of the museum, built in 1485-1500 to house the powerful Abbots of Cluny when they were in Paris. Other occupants included the Bishop of Clermont and Mary Tudor. The Gothic building…
The most famous attraction of the Musée de Cluny is the Lady and the Unicorn (Dame à la Licorne) tapestry, the most acclaimed tapestry of its kind. The six charming scenes, which cover…
Romanesque stained glass panel depicting monks witnessing the ascension of St Benedict. From Saint-Denis, before 1144.
A fine ivory panel that makes an impressive use of space. From the Rhineland, perhaps Cologne, c.1000. In the center is the Crucifixion, with Christ fully robed and not much suffering, flanked by the…
Ivory panels with very simple reliefs of figures. The one on the right must depict the Hanging of Judas, even though his feet are on the ground!
Enamel and gold altarpiece depicting the Pentecost. From the Meuse region, c.1160-70. Possibly commissioned for the Abbey of Stavelot.
Detail of silver Byzantine cross from the late 11th or early 12th century. On the front are relief busts of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. John and two archangels. The reverse side has engravings of…
Romanesque capital of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the serpent.
Vault of the 15th-century Flamboyant Gothic chapel of the Hôtel de Cluny.
Medieval leather shoe.

The National Museum of the Middle Ages (Musée National du Moyen Âge), also known as the Cluny Museum (Musee de Cluny), displays a magnificent collection of medieval art in a 15th-century Gothic mansion. As an added bonus, underneath the museum are the ruins of ancient Roman baths.

History

The Musée National du Moyen Age is housed in the Hôtel de Cluny, one of only two remaining medieval homes in Paris (the other is the Hôtel de Sens in the Marais). The building was founded by the rich and powerful 15th-century abbot of Cluny Abbey, Jacques d'Amboise, who constructed his mansion over the ruins of a Roman bath.

In addition to abbots, the Hôtel de Cluny hosted other notable residents, including Mary Tudor, widow of Louis XII, beginning in 1515. Seized during the French Revolution, the Cluny was rented in 1833 to Alexandre du Sommerard, an amateur art collector who was fascinated with the Middle Ages. After his death in 1842, the government bought the building and the collection.

What to See

The museum is entered through the cobblestoned Court of Honor (Cour d'Honneur), which is separated from the street by high walls and surrounded on the other three sides by the wings of the Hôtel de Cluny.

The exterior of the Flamboyant Gothic building includes many symbols of the Abbot of Cluny's power, from the crenellated walls to the carved Burgundian grapes. The scallop-shells on the façade symbolize the great Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, which once began just around the corner and was overseen by the Abbey of Cluny.

The design of the museum's medieval garden, completed in 2000, was inspired by the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry and provides a pleasant oasis in the heart of the city. It covers 5000 square meters and includes medicinal plants, a "kitchen garden" of herbs, and a section with a "thousand flowers" (mille fleurs).

The most famous attraction of the Musée de Cluny is the Lady and the Unicorn (Dame à la Licorne) tapestry, the most acclaimed tapestry of its kind. The six charming scenes, which cover the walls of an entire room, bring to life the romance of the age of chivalry. The tapestry was designed by French artists and woven in 1485-1500 in Flanders. It was discovered in 1841 by Prosper Merimee in Boussac Castle and aquired by the museum in 1882.

Each of the six scenes includes a beautiful lady, a unicorn, and a lion. The animals wear heraldry that identifies the sponsor of the work as Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman close to King Charles VII (1422-61). The backgrounds are filled with woodland creatures, plants and flowers, creating an enchanted landscape.


Five of the scenes illustrate the five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. The sixth scene, which belongs either at the beginning or the end of the series, is especially beautiful and intriguing. It is labeled with a banner reading, "To my only desire," and shows the lady placing a necklace in a case held by a servant.

Downstairs in room 9 are the ruins of Roman baths, dating from about 200 AD. The best-preserved section is the frigidarium (cold water bath), with ribbed vaulting resting on consoles evoking ships' prows. This unusual motif is explained by the builders builders of the baths, who were Paris's boatmen. On display here is another survival associated with the builders: the "Pillar of the Boatmen," a column dedicated to Jupiter from the 1st century AD. It was found beneath Notre-Dame's chancel and is believed to be the oldest sculpture created in Paris.

The following numbering of rooms is that used in the museum's visitor guides. The list of exhibits in each room is not comprehensive but gives an indication of the most prominent and characteristic artworks. Rooms 1-6 on the ground floor and 17-23 on the first floor are housed in the 15th-century Hôtel de Cluny. The rest are in 19th- and 20th-century rooms. See the official website for a map of the museum using this numbering.

Quick Facts on the Cluny Museum

Site Information
Names:Cluny Museum; H; Musée de Cluny; Musée National du Moyen Âge; National Museum of the Middle Ages; National Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris
City:Paris
State:Ile-de-France
Country:France
Categories:Museums; Castles and Palaces
Feat:Romanesque Sculpture; Medieval Stained Glass
Styles:Gothic
Dates:late 15th C
Status:museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Paris, France
Coordinates:48.850392° N, 2.343999° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of the Cluny Museum

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Cluny Museum. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Personal visit (July 22, 2008).
  2. Musee Nationale du Moyen Age - official website
  3. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg (Museum Director), Pierre-Yves Le Pogam, Dany Sandron (Curators), Musée nationale du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny: Guide to the collections (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993).

More Information

Article Info

Title:Cluny Museum, Paris
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:07/15/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/france/paris-cluny-museum-of-middle-ages
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