Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Paris -- Musée de Cluny

Musée de Cluny, the entrance is the first small brown door at the bottom right

We did get to the Musée de Cluny while in Paris (see Postcard Thursday, #34).  It was one of several places on our to do list.  We knew we wouldn’t get to see everything but this was definitely one museum we hoped we could fit in.  Musée de Cluny is amazing.  Parts of the building are extremely old, dating from Roman times.  Some of the items on display in the museum dated from 935 AD most were from the 1100s and 1200s. 

The Cluny was a good choice for us because it is a smaller museum and meant we wouldn’t get quite as overwhelmed with all the artifacts.  It is also perhaps not as well known or as popular as some of the other larger museums hence fewer people, better views of the things we wanted to see and a more relaxed visit. 

Our main objective in visiting this small museum was to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries but we found many other interesting things there as well including Roman baths, the heads of the Old Testament kings that had been removed from Notre Dame cathedral during the French Revolution, examples of medieval armor, religious icons, leaded glass window panels and statuary as well as other tapestries.  The Unicorn tapestry is huge.  There are five panels that cover one entire wall and an additional section on a second wall. 

Most of the display areas in the museum were dimly lit, presumably to help protect and preserve the items, making picture taking almost impossible with my small point and shoot camera because no flash pictures were allowed.  Mrs. Gimlet could do much better with her bigger camera and changeable settings and lenses.  I did not realize that even my pre-flash red-eye reduction light would prove to be a bit more than the museum wanted but I did get a couple of photos before I was told to stop.  They were very nice about it and I apologized.

Four of the five panels of the Lady & the Unicorn tapestry

The five panels represent the five senses, smell, hearing, touch, taste and sight.  The sixth panel depicts the sixth sense or the moral and spiritual heart.  

Sixth panel of the Lady & the Unicorn tapestry

The tapestries are made of wool and silk and were woven about 1500 AD.  

The heads of the kings were another attraction.  Up high all along the front of the Notre Dame Cathedral are statues of kings from the Old Testament.  

Row of Old Testament kings across the front approximately halfway up the building

During the French Revolution the cathedral of Notre Dame was stormed, most of the leaded glass windows were smashed, the heads were removed from the kings and the bodies were also vandalized.  This happened because the people saw any figure that had a crown or looked religious as representation of the oppressors and thus became targets to be taken down or destroyed.  The replacement set of leaded glass windows wasn’t completed until about 1938 just before World War II.  At the beginning of the war to protect the windows from bombing damage they were dismantled, each piece of glass numbered, and then sunk in the Seine River until after the end of the war when they were taken out of the river and reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle. 

One of the Rose windows, Notre Dame Cathedral

During the Revolution someone collected the heads of the kings but it wasn’t until the 1970s that all but a couple of the heads of the kings were rediscovered.  By that time the heads and bodies had been replaced years earlier so the original pieces were sent to the Cluny museum where we saw them.  

Some of the original carved heads of the Old Testament kings taken from Notre Dame

The heads are made of Lutetian limestone and were carved between 1210 and 1258 AD.  The heads and the bodies suffered significant damage as is shown in these photos.  

The bodies of the kings and Mrs. Gimlet

Also at the Cluny was this magnificent icon done in layered gold a process called Limoges.


The Roman baths were on three different levels, one outside, this one (the frigidarium—cold bath) above, and one more.  This was built in 200 AD the ceiling and floor have been left to age.

When I got home I really wished I had worn a pedometer for the trip.  To give an idea of how far we walked when in Paris the first day we walked past the Cluny this day we took the Metro.  It was five stops from our hotel, not an insignificant distance!  By this point, however, we were used to walking all over Paris and from the Cluny we strolled the rest of the way to Notre Dame stopping at a little stand to get an ice cream cone. 

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