Musée national du Moyen Âge

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The Musée national du Moyen Âge in the Hôtel de Cluny
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries

The Musée national du Moyen Âge, formerly Musée de Cluny (French pronunciation: ​[myze də klyni]), officially known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge - Thermes et hôtel de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages - Cluny thermal baths and mansion), is a museum in Paris, France. It is located in the 5th arrondissement at 6 Place Paul Painlevé, south of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the Rue Saint-Jacques.

Among the principal holdings of the museum are the six La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) tapestries.

The Hôtel de Cluny[edit]

The structure is perhaps the most outstanding example still extant of civic architecture in medieval Paris. It was formerly the town house (hôtel) of the abbots of Cluny, started in 1334. The structure was rebuilt by Jacques d'Amboise, abbot in commendam of Cluny 1485-1510; it combines Gothic and Renaissance elements. In 1843 it was made into a public museum, to contain relics of France's Gothic past preserved in the building by Alexandre du Sommerard.

Though it no longer possesses anything originally connected with the abbey of Cluny, the hôtel was at first part of a larger Cluniac complex that also included a building (no longer standing) for a religious college in the Place de la Sorbonne, just south of the present day Hôtel de Cluny along Boulevard Saint-Michel. Although originally intended for the use of the Cluny abbots, the residence was taken over by Jacques d'Amboise, Bishop of Clermont and Abbot of Jumièges, and rebuilt to its present form in the period of 1485-1500.[1] Occupants of the house over the years have included Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII of England. She was installed here after the death of her husband Louis XII by his successor Francis I of France in 1515; Francis wished to monitor Mary closely, particularly to see if she was pregnant. Seventeenth-century occupants included several papal nuncios, including Mazarin.[2]

Later, it was used as an observatory by the astronomer Charles Messier, who in 1771 published his observations in the landmark Messier catalog. In 1793 it was confiscated by the state, and for the next three decades served several functions. At one point it was owned by a physician who used the magnificent Flamboyant chapel on the first floor as a dissection room.[3]

In 1833 Alexandre du Sommerard moved here and installed his large collection of medieval and Renaissance objects.[4] Upon his death in 1842 the collection was purchased by the state; the building was opened as a museum in 1843, with du Sommerard's son serving as the first curator. The present gardens, opened in 1971, include a "Forêt de la Licorne" inspired by the tapestries.

The Hôtel de Cluny is partially constructed on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the third century (known as the Thermes de Cluny), which are famous in their own right and which may still be visited. In fact, the museum itself actually consists of two buildings: the frigidarium ("cooling room"), where the remains of the Thermes de Cluny are, and the Hôtel de Cluny itself, which houses its impressive collections.

The museum[edit]

The Musée de Cluny houses a variety of important medieval artifacts, in particular its tapestry collection, which includes the fifteenth century tapestry cycle La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn).

Other notable works stored there include early Medieval sculptures from the seventh and eighth centuries. There are also works of gold, ivory, antique furnishings, stained glass, and illuminated manuscripts.


Hôtel de Cluny[edit]


References in literature[edit]

Herman Melville visited Paris in 1849, and the Hôtel de Cluny evidently fired his imagination. The structure figures prominently in Chapter 41 of Moby-Dick, when Ishmael, probing Ahab's "darker, deeper" motives, invokes the building as a symbol of man's noble but buried psyche.

In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, the narrator states (chapter 13) that the wealthy Dr. Renard's rooms "were like the Musée de Cluny".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, 2004:62.
  2. ^ Horne 2004:65.
  3. ^ Michelin at 265-266.
  4. ^ Album de Museé at 5.


Musée de Cluny History, Photos and Visitor Info

External links[edit]

  • Official website, in French: [1]
  • Official website, in English: [2]

Coordinates: 48°51′02″N 2°20′36″E / 48.85056°N 2.34333°E / 48.85056; 2.34333