After a day at the Versailles Palace, we were ready for a change of pace. As I said in my Versailles post, the great palace is an experience in over-the-top sensory overload. I have to think that any ordinary person in the 1600s who came to petition the king and saw those golden gates and gold leaf on all the windows of the palace must have thought he was either at the palace of the king, or – more likely – the gates of Heaven. Every detail of every room, every garden, every fountain, every ceiling, floor, painting, sculpture, precious mirrors, all of it . . . seems to have been thought through so that each element of any space would make complete sense.
One has to think of the thousands of artisans and artists who created all of this, and what it took to stage and execute the construction of any given room or rooms. The same could be said of the gardens, the sculptures, the pools and their many fountains, how they work so well on the grand scale they were designed for.
So grand as it was, it was an experience in sensory overload. Nothing from of our years of living in Los Angeles, where wealthy people build grand homes of 75,000 and 100,000 square feet, could have prepared us for what we saw at Versailles.
The Musée national du Moyen Âge used to be known as the Cluny Museum. The Cluny name derives from the order of Abbots who lived in the original structure that is now part of the current museum. Constructed in 1348, it is one of the oldest remaining medieval structures in Paris, and has been described as the most outstanding example still extant of civic architecture in medieval Paris. It’s located on the left bank in the 5th Arrondissement in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne.
This is a very old building and has seen very many uses. In 1833, a wealthy Frenchman purchased the building from the city to house is collection of medieval and Renaissance object. After his death in 1842, the City of Paris opened it as a public museum. So it’s been around a while!
I love medieval art and architecture, so was really looking forward to this amazing collection, which includes the incredible set of six tapestries known as “The Lady and the Unicorn”.
Most of the art is religious art, and there is room after room after room of wood-carved and sculpted holy figures. Paintings, stained glass, sculptures, even illuminated manuscripts. What is notable about art from this period has to do with how many of the artists and creators of these works are unknown to us. “Anonymous” is the most attributed artist here.
As you walk through this place you begin to wonder how many churches where all this came from, churches large and small, that probably no longer exist. Or if they do, they’re in a state of ruin. So in a way it’s kind of sad to see these objects, once used for worship, now preserved under glass to be viewed curiously as artifacts from some distant age.
If we return to Paris (we’re already planning that!), I think I want to come here again. There’s so much to just sit and absorb about this place.
The expressiveness and emotional intensity of the faces in this art come straight through their medieval veneer to provoke an emotional response from the viewer, as both Mary Ann and I found out. A crucifixion brought Mary Ann to tears. A statue of Mary (probably from a crucifixion scene long lost) brought that out in me.
The 15th century set of six tapestries, known as The Lady and the Unicorn came to the museum in 1863. There have been many attempts to decipher their meaning. The most convincing suggests that each of five of the tapestries depict the senses of of taste, hearing, sight, smell and touch, though the meaning of the sixth, known as À Mon Seul Désir, has been debated for many years with no clear consensus.
These are all in a room of their own, dimly lit. All of the tapestries are quite large, being several feet across and perhaps as much as 8-10 feet high. Click here to view them for yourself.