Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Courtney's Summer of Museums: Musee de Moyen Age/Hotel de Cluny

Having lived in Paris, France for 4 1/2 years now, I have decided it was high time to visit some of the smaller museums Paris has to offer, and which I had yet to see. Since we have the nanny all day on Wednesdays, each Wednesday in July I'll visit a museum and "pen" my thoughts here.

The first Wednesday, July 4th, I made my way over to the very busy St. Michel/Blvd St. Germain/Rue des Ecoles area and visited the Museum of the Middle Ages/Cluny Hotel. I was well juiced up on my two cups of coffee and a pain au chocolate type pastry.

This was remarkable on two levels. One, of course, is getting to see a vast amount of Middle Ages artwork, architectural details, tapestries and information on the Middle Ages in Europe. The other, of course, are the ancient ruins of the "roman" baths.

Going solo was a real luxury, I spent nearly three hours covering all the museum and lingering where I wanted, taking my time to read all the information panels and cards and even just contemplating particular pieces. I particularly liked the "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries. These are world famous and, seeing them in person, I can see why.

It was also interesting to see:
- the rooms on daily life
- information on the monks who lived here
- to learn about the Hotel's other residents over the centuries including the art collector and benefactor M. Alexandre du Sommerard
- big fireplaces that almost reached the ceilings, so they could heat large reception and dining rooms
- learn about devotional life, that people would carry religious wooden statues on Palm Sunday processions
- the Book of Hours and the amazing detail; how rich life was even back then; and the devotion toward Christ
- the morbid fascination with death, funerals and the art-of-dying
- the chauffe-mains! What a great idea--especially for back then! I could use something like that today.

As I mentioned, the "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries just blew me away. I was so fascinated I must've spent at least 30 minutes in the darkened room, just turning from one to the other and back again. I each time I took a new review, I noticed something different.

I got so obsessed at one point I jotted down the placement of the trees and when I came home, put little slips of paper on the table with their names to see if perhaps they were always in the same location but the tapestries were woven from different view points. (The answer is "no.") But if you are curious, the placement for Taste, Sight, and Sound are the same, but from different vantage points. The trees in Smell are criss-crossed and Mon Seul Desir have the same arrangement but flipped vertically.

Of course, Mon Seul Desir does bring up all sorts of speculation and one theory of mine had me going around the room all over again and noting down the colors of her dress, the dress lining and coat to see if it revealed any suggestive under/overtones I was suspecting. (Again, not quite.) I do like the idea that she puts away her worldly riches for earthly love and the tent, it's colors and symbolic designs added to my theory.

In any case, the tapestries were so incredible, on so many levels, I just couldn't seem to bring myself to leave them. But leave them I did, and I went on my way to explore the rest of the museum, and the also incredible Gallo-Roman thermal baths. Whoa. I love being in the presence of these ancient artifacts. It really drives home the fact that our physical life here is so temporary. When I think of the millions and millions and millions of people who lived before's incredible. Thank God these artifacts weren't totally destroyed over the centuries so little people like me could marvel and wonder at them.