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An Italian in her element…
Angela and the Lady and the Unicorn
Paris, a city with endless gardens and parks, is renowned for its stunning architecture and breath-taking views.
Detailed view: the entrance of Cluny
As I walk the 6th arrondissement – the heart of Paris – I can admire the Gallo-Roman baths of Cluny which, as I later learned, are among the most ancient monumental remains in Northern Europe.
Street view: the baths
I then decide to sit down for a cup of coffee at the Croissanterie, and I finally send an email to the Musée de Cluny, aka National Museum of the Middle Ages, to try to learn more about its history. What a beauty!
Aline, press manager at Cluny, sounds gentle and welcoming. She suggests a meeting at 3pm in the courtyard on a Tuesday afternoon, the week after.
I am there.
Insider view of Cluny
It’s quiet inside, though sunny. As she arrives, we start the tour of the facilities which include the frigidarium, the Gallo-Roman baths and the temporary exhibition around the Lady and the Unicorn (“Five senses. An Echo to the Lady and the Unicorn)”, with a selection of about fifty treasures from the museum’s permanent collection, including tapestries, sculptures and gold pieces.
Angela in the baths: first stop of the visit
The stunning corridors
In Roman times, Cluny’s were the largest public baths in the Gallo-Roman city (with an area of about 6000 m²). Three levels of operation have been identified, including the hydraulic network, some service rooms and a ground floor with frigidarium (cold room), caldaria (warm rooms) and palestra. They were all built between the 1st and 2nd centuries.
Details of the frigidarium at Cluny
Today there remains only the frigidarium, which quite amazingly gives an idea of the sturdiness of Roman construction. It’s more than 14 meters high and is one of the best preserved in the North of France!
Beautiful view in one of the corridors at Cluny
The medieval hotel and the courtyard, currently closed, were built in 1485 by Jacques d’Amboise, Abbot of Cluny who belonged to one of most the dominant families of the late 15th century.
The history of the Cluny hotel and the founding of the museum in the 19th century are closely linked to the Du Sommerard family. Alexandre Du Sommerard (1779-1842), a master advisor to the Court of Auditors, put together an extensive collection devoted to the arts of the Middle Ages and moved in 1832 in part of the hotel.
After his death, the State acquired the Hotel de Cluny and its collections (in 1843), with its nearly 1500 objects, while the City of Paris offered the State the Gallo-Roman baths and the lapidary deposit that it contained.
And that’s how “Cluny” as we know it today came about. Covering the history of arts from antiquity to the Renaissance, the museum has nearly 11,000 objects to this day, thanks to its long-term director Edmond Du Sommerard, the son of Alexander, who also acquired the Lady and the Unicorn, its most famous work.
Underground galleries of the Roman baths
The museum has undergone different changes, having been offered different addictions since 1885.
2016 is the year in which Cluny starts a massive modernization project, which is bound to end in 2020 and which is the reason why the museum is only partially open to the public today.
The Chess Players (on glass)
In the meantime, to end the visit, we went through the temporary exhibition around the Lady and the Unicorn, a series of six tapestries five of which are meant to evoke the five senses and the sixth may represent “the sense of the heart”.
As you may already know, in the Middle Ages each sense, from touch to sight, has its function, spiritual and material. The senses are used to understand the world and its ties to religion.
The exhibition: first view
Details: mirrors and a book (sense: “view”)
So it doesn’t surprise me that the collections of the Musée de Cluny highlight the importance given to the senses in the Middle Ages, with the Lady and the Unicorn itself being an allegory of them.
Sense: “smell” (incense holders)
The tapestries representing the Lady are the most stunning pieces, in my modest opinion (but I know you all agree with me)! The following photo only represents a part of them…
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries
A week after my visit I still can’t believe how magnificent Cluny is. I recommend anyone in Paris to pay a visit to check it out!
Many thanks to Aline for this amazing opportunity.