Museum of the Month: The National Medieval Art Museum
February 12, 2015
Curious about Paris during the age of knights, duels and courtly love?
Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the National Medieval Art Museum, also known as the Musée de Cluny, is dedicated to the history of the Middle Ages. The artworks and objects reveal the daily life of the medieval period. Among their immense collection are hand-carved chess games, religious artifacts, jousting weapons, illuminated manuscripts and stained-glass windows.
The museum collections are housed in the Hôtel de Cluny, a 15th-century gothic mansion. Once the private residence of the abbot of Cluny, the hôtel was partially constructed on the remnants of 3rd-century Gallo-Roman baths, the Thermes de Cluny. Partially visible from the boulevards Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain, these public baths once spanned nearly 65,000 square feet! The frigidarium, an immense, vaulted cooling room, features fragments of the original decorative wall paintings and serves today as an exhibition space.
One of the highlights of the collection is the iconic series of tapestries, “The Lady and the Unicorn,” considered among the greatest works of European medieval art. Five of the six tapestries are allegories of the five senses, yet the meaning of the sixth tapestry remains a mystery. The only clue is the phrase “À mon seul désir”, or “To my only desire,” woven into the fabric. You can meditate peacefully on its meaning in the rotunda, where the tapestries are displayed.
You will find some of the original sculptures of the façade of Notre Dame on display at the Musée de Cluny, including the heads of the statues of French kings–not even statues could escape a beheading during the Revolution! Another must-see are the stained-glass windows from the Sainte Chapelle, the 13th-century royal chapel on the Île de la Cité.
Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are two jewels of gothic architecture that are not to be missed! Why not check out both with our Skip the Line Tour?