Last week I spent an afternoon visiting one of my favorite museums of all time – le Musée Cluny, or the National Museum of Medieval Art. Now, Seeing as I’m a prospective Medieval & Renaissance Studies concentrator and I have been taking a class on medieval art this semester, I felt like this visit was way overdue. So, on a whim one day, I bent my steps toward the ancient baths of Paris that the museum calls home, for a few hours of perusing.
I could say a lot of good things about this museum. I absolutely love it. It’s not oppressively large, so it’s a good one to pop into for a few hours when you time. I can’t usually pop in for just one hour since the art always sucks me in, but it is by no means overwhelming. The museum usually has several visiting exhibits and then the permanent collection which comprises of statues, gold-smithed artifacts, reliefs, stained glass windows, tapestries…you name it. Because it isn’t super large it feels very intimate, and the fact that it’s housed in the ancient baths adds another, special dimension to its charm. I love the idea of reusing an ancient space to display old art.
Now, I think that my favorite part of this museum is the way they display works. They are extremely good about presenting all these pieces in educational ways and (since most medieval art is functional objects) displaying the works so the viewer can get an idea of the objects former function. Take for example the new Croatian art exhibit:
I loved those big tubes with reliquaries. I thought it was a great way of highlighting the 3-dimensionality of these pieces. Here’s another cool example:
They actually propped open the top of this reliquary to expose the Saint’s skull underneath! Cool, no? Certainly not something you see everyday.
I also really liked that they placed a mirror under this piece so you could see the carvings on the underside (so clever):
The sculpture gallery is also fabulous. Most of the pieces come from Notre-Dame and neighboring cathedrals, and the museum took special care to mount works if they would have been seen from below. Moreover, they included these little signs which showed where the sculpture could be found on the cathedral (brilliant!):
I also really like this room:
Check out all that stained glass! Most of it comes from Sainte-Chapelle and I think they did such a good job of presenting it.
Of course, my FAVORITE part of the museum is its key attraction, the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
Again, absolutely brilliant presentation on the museum’s part. The tapestries are in their own, darkened semi-circular room (with a bench in the middle). You sit and look at the curved side which holds the 5 senses, then you turn and look at the 6th piece: the result of the 5 steps, the taming of the unicorn. You can also approach them and look at the intricate details if you want. I find the entire space really intimate and powerful. I can spend hours in that room, just staring at these masterpieces. They are absolutely incredible and are absolutely worth seeing.
I think I’m going to finish this post with photos (in case I haven’t convinced you). Here are some of my favorite pieces from the museum:
Also (side note), but the museum will often host special exhibits as well! Right now they’re holding a great exhibit of board games – tarro cards, old chess sets, games from ancient Mesopotamia, etc. It was a really fascinating exhibit that I thoroughly enjoyed. Admission is free when you enter the museum – check it out!