Musée National du Moyen-Age Cluny has been under works for the last ten years and closed for three, which was heart breaking. But it is now reopening on Thursday and the magic has remained even though 23 million € were spent on the architecture, the restoration of the works and the modernisation of all spaces to prepare it for the new generations. And a new route was devised chronologically with more light streaming through the medieval glass windows. The intent was to get younger visitors into museum and it has achieved thanks to the wonderful team of curators under the leadership of Séverine Lepape. The recently modernized façade and new entrance were designed by Bernard Desmoulin who joined the Académie des Beaux Arts last year. Now there is easy access to all 28 different levels and to the light spaces devoted to 1 600 works in the 21 rooms. Of course the chef d’oeuvre is the series of 6 tapestries of the Lady with the Unicorn but until you reach it in the penultimate room, so many beautiful treasures await you .
The second room, when you enter, is devoted to the first millenium where the XI th century golden altar front of the Basel cathedral awaits the visitor in full splendor. Christ is surrounded by three archangels and St Benedict is glorified by the inscription. A VII th century visigothic crown from the Treasure of Guarrazar discovered near Toledo in the 1820’s, Carolingian, Merovingian and a Byzantine ivory book binding are some of the precious objects contained in the windows. Then you enter the very bright room devoted to XII th century Christs and altars.
This room is spectacular with a series of capitals from a Catalan cloister (one of which was bought recently in Germany!), four fragments of wall decor from Abbaye de Charlieu in Burgundy, and an anonymous statue of Prophet Isaiah found in the church of St Jacques de la Boucherie in Paris during excavations. They are all so well exhibited and lit by natural light that it is a fabulous decor with the original stones from the 15 th century when Hôtel de Cluny was built by Abbot Jacques d’Amboise over the Roman therms. The museum was first open to the public in 1844 with Alexandre de Sommerard’s collections.
A room is devoted to statues from Notre Dame which were housed by Viollet-le-Duc at Cluny and were replaced by less fragile casts. There is also a group of seven heads of the Kings of Juda, from 1220, discovered rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, under the BFCE bank and given in 1980 and part of the central portal of the cathedral and the coronation of the Virgin are on another wall. Again the zenithal light is magical.
Gold jewels from the Celts were discovered in Brittany, Auvergne and Picardy and interestingly some of the necklaces look like the rings in the Pillar of Nautes from Roman Gaul. A room with relics follows with a beautiful light coming through medieval windows. This allows the visitor to see the soon to be refurbished garden which was occulted before. It also gives a warm atmosphere to the rooms. There are so many extraordinary pieces of silversmith and enamel, ivory and bone that one has to concentrate on each shelf at a time. And this, even though 5 000 objects from the collections were transported to Musée de la Renaissance in Ecouen in 1977!
Another precious room is that of the treasures of the Sainte Chapelle, built by Louis IX (St Louis) in 1241 to house the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross, which mixes stainless glass windows and statues from the 13 th century. All have been restored and new bases were made so as to enhance the sculptor’s work. More rooms follow, with furniture, eight sculpted angels from Saint Louis de Poissy, more reliquaries and jewels. A bishop’s Mitre painted in grisaille for mourning is an absolute beauty.
A virgin with child from le Maître de Moulins about 1480-1500 shows Mary nursing her child while a dark beautiful Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Dominican, instructs his parishioners on the Last Judgment. The painting was bought in 2010. More fun rooms await you with The Jouvenel des Ursins family in prayer (a painting from Notre Dame) and a glass panel by Jean Fouquet, Rondel LG, from 1460. The chapel and its amazing vault, the room with the Hispano-Moorish lustreware and more day to day items like the 1 500 shoe in the shape of a cow’s muzzle….
And of course what every visitor is waiting for, the room of the Lady with the Unicorn tapestries arrives. And the six large tapestries are as magical as expected. In the last room, a history of the building shows through paintings and photographs how much the original terms were transformed. The Frigidarium, a high ceiling room, will be devoted to exhibitions with the first one organized in October with Musée des Augustins in Toulouse.
I have to admit that the transformation of the museum is spectacular and yet the medieval atmosphere remains. Do not miss this reopening, it illuminated my week!
Musée de Cluny is open every day except Mondays from 9.30 am to 6.15 pm at 28 rue Du Sommerard next to the Sorbonne. It is particularly well adapted for children and all statues are visible from close up. You will discover many new treasures even if you were a regular visitor before. And remember that it is perfectly adapted to handicapped visitors.
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