Medieval glass at Musée de Cluny

The chess players from l’hôtel de la Bessée, Villefranche-sur-Saône, XVth century © RMN-Grand Palais (musée de Cluny–musée national du Moyen-Âge) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Musée de Cluny is such a discreet place that I had to rely on Australian friends to find out about one of the most magical exhibitions of the moment : ” Inventiveness in glass in the Middle Ages “. It covers all aspects of glass from stained windows in Saint Denis Cathedral to spectacles, house windows and drinking glasses. It shows what a science it is to make glass and no wonder Saint Gobain is the sponsor of the show.

Little vase, Strasbourg, end of XVth century  © Musées de Strasbourg, M. Bertola

When you enter the exhibition, you discover very bright stained glass windows in a black room. « Samson and the Lion » from Sainte Chapelle, 1243-1248, is made of bright red and blue glass. “Scenes from the Apocalypse” also at Sainte Chapelle in 1450 is equally stunning. There are many examples of stained glass from Saint Denis basilica and the evolution of bright to pale colors and bright again is well explained with the influence of Cistercian orders.

Samson and the Lion, La Sainte Chapelle, Paris 1243-48

You then enter the large « frigidarium » (the cooling room of the baths), where drinking glasses, paintings and cups are shown. A virgin with an eglantine (wild rose) in a vase by Sebastiano Mainardi ca 1480 (Lille Museum) enhances the importance of glass in paintings as well as “Man with a glass of wine” ca 1460, an anonymous work from Musée du Louvre. The manufacture of glass was so costly that only the rich could afford it and it thus represented luxury and upper class.

Hanap or “Verre de Charlemagne” from the treasure of Chateaudun Church, XIII th and XIV th century © musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres

A unique white and blue relics vase from Saint Savin, a beautiful Abbey with frescoes listed by UNESCO, east of Poitiers, dates from the 11 th century. There are two Venitian blue and white glasses from the 13 th and 14 th century, Swedish, Dutch and Belgian works. One of the surprises is a pair of spectacles found in an old book ! and dating from the 13 th century.

Relics glass from Saint Savin, France XI th century, Musée de Poitiers

The importance of specific glasses for the first windows ever made, different in style in Germany, in France and in Italy, and the varieties of Islamic white glass, Carolingian green « fern » glass, made with vegetal ashes and the evolution of color in stained glass: all technical details are clearly explained. This is a fairly small exhibition but full of delightful surprises and curated by Sophie Lagabrielle from Musée de Cluny.

Verre à tige pleine, from château de la Madeleine in Chevreuse (Yvelines), XIVe siècle
© RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Fuzeau

Musée de Cluny faces la Sorbonne and is mostly famous for the Lady with Unicorn tapestries which are full of medieval poetry and remain a mystery to all. Do not miss them on your way out. (The Glass exhibition is on until January 8, 2018)

These “Middleburg”glasses dating from the XV th century, were found in a book, German or Dutch © Stichting Cultureel Erfgoed Zeeland (SCEZ)

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3 Comments on “Medieval glass at Musée de Cluny”

  1. Susan J. Hewitt

    Ah, fascinating. Glass is a magic substance, but now it is so ubiquitous that we tend to forget that. It is good to be reminded!

    Thanks Laure.


  2. Jacob

    Et bien sur , Nous perdons de nombreuses et belles expositions .. A Bogota, où nous sommes

    Merci Laure . Grâce à tes blogs , nous admirons ces merveilles et nous sentons un peu ” dans ces expos “

  3. de Montille

    Je suis allée voir cette jolie et intéressante exposition aujourd’ hui.
    Un vrai bonheur .Merci beaucoup pour tous vos articles si bien écrits .
    Je les lis avant et après chaque visite !

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