I have probably been to Paris more than 50 times, yet on every visit I still manage to catch a glimpse of something new. On my most recent trip, I took my first visit to the sumptuously gorgeous Musée de Cluny.
The museum, which has recently been renamed Musée national du Moyen Âge, is most famous for a series of six tapestries dubbed ‘The Lady and the Unicorn.’ It was these magical textiles that lead me into this beguiling building, which, first built in 1334, lies in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. The tapestries were woven in silk and wool in Flanders during the 1500s and are thought to illustrate the five senses, with the largest tapestry being understood to represent love. In each tapestry a women is positioned in the centre, with a unicorn to her left and a lion to her right. This blonde woman is dressed in green against a luxurious red background. The lion and unicorn that accompany her are depicted wearing the coat of arms of Jean Le Viste, a nobel in the court of King Charles VII, who is thought to have sponsored the artwork. There are also other small animals nestled into the fabric that include rabbits, birds, dogs and monkeys. These creatures are displayed amongst dozens upon dozens of flowers in these tapestries that have been created in a style known as ‘thousand flowers.’ I would imagine that each of the animals and flowers represent something and I could only wish to be able to decipher all of the symbolism within the works.
While it cannot be disputed that these tapestries are remarkably beautiful, there are many other artifacts inside this museum that are well deserving of attention. Part of the museum was once home to Roman baths. This would explain the remarkable sculptures of Roman figures that lie proudly inside Cluny’s very own frigidarium. At one stage, the building displays a set of heads besides the bodies of which they have been separated from. This is all the more interesting, as the museum does not provide any explanation as to why this has occurred.
Also on display are stained glass windows from Sainte-Chapelle, as well as works of ivory and illuminated manuscripts. There is also a gallery full of jewelry and regalia. The most memorable of these for me was a golden visigothic votive crown from the Treasure of Guarrazar dating back to 7th Century Spain that had been embellished with pale purple gems.
Cluny is a feast for the eyes, a Parisian museum that well deserves more international fame.