The Musée de Cluny reopens its doors today after a vast modernisation project. The project, which was conceived over 10 years ago and began in 2015, has made the museum physically and intellectually accessible, with a completely revised itinerary that is now accessible to people with reduced mobility.
What is the history of the Musée de Cluny and what can you see there? Find out in this article!
The history of the Musée de Cluny
The Cluny Museum is the only national museum dedicated to the Middle Ages. And if it is located in the heart of Paris, it is not by chance!
As early as the 13th century, the site was home to one of the colleges of the powerful monastic order of Cluny, established in Burgundy. This site allowed it to be located close to Parisian power and to accommodate the novices during their university studies.
The construction of the present mansion began in 1485, at the request of Jacques d’Amboise, abbot of Cluny. He wanted a building worthy of his status and did not skimp on materials and decorations. For economic reasons, the hotel integrated the Gallo-Roman baths dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries BC that can still be admired today in the heart of the museum. With its Gothic style, its 15th century chapel and its crenellated wall, the hotel of the abbots of Cluny is a masterpiece of the Middle Ages!
In the 19th century, Alexandre Du Sommerard, a master councillor at the Court of Auditors, developed a passion for the medieval period. He managed to assemble a collection of works from the Middle Ages, which he installed in the Hôtel de Cluny. On his death in 1842, the French state acquired the hotel and the 1500 or so works of art that made up his collection. The first milestones of a museum that would cover the history of the arts from antiquity to the Renaissance were then laid. Numerous works were later added to Alexandre Du Sommerard’s collection, and his son, Edmond, became its director.
Over the years, the collection of the Musée de Cluny has continued to grow, and in the aftermath of the Second World War, the exhibition was redesigned on a thematic basis. The modernisation project launched in 2015 aimed to transform this tour into a chronological one, from the Gallo-Roman period to the dawn of the Renaissance.
The Middle Ages: anything but a dark age!
This is the new tour that you can discover today and which invites you to travel from century to century. This change of scenography also seeks to challenge the idea that the Middle Ages were a dark age! From room to room, you will discover sumptuous stained glass windows, delicate works of art and, in some works, a touch of humour.
This second degree is also the bias of the reopening communication, which does not hesitate to play with the works that we see come to life on social networks. The slogan “The Middle Ages new generation” that accompanies this campaign also seeks to attract a younger audience.
To this end, the mediation mechanisms and the cultural offer have been rethought: artistic performances, sensitive and sensory mediation, theatrical visits, walks for toddlers, meditative visits, a singing visit (by Grégoire Ichou)… there are many activities to make a visit to the museum anything but boring!
Some masterpieces to discover at the Musée de Cluny
Several wonders await you in the Cluny museum, here is an overview…
The Lady of the Unicorn
The Lady of the Unicorn tapestry is to Cluny what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre! It is THE masterpiece of the museum, a 15th century jewel that amazes as much as it challenges. It consists of six tapestries: one for each of the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) and another enigmatic one bearing the inscription “A mon seul désir” (To my sole desire), the meaning of which is always intriguing.
The heads in the Gallery of the Kings of Judah in Notre-Dame de Paris
During the French Revolution, the gallery of kings on the façade of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was destroyed. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was believed that it was a genealogy of the kings of France. The one that can be seen today is a reconstruction made during the renovation of the cathedral by Viollet-le-Duc.
But in 1977, twenty-one of these twenty-eight statues were found. These remains can now be admired in the Cluny Museum.
The epitaph of Nicolas Flamel
Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418) is associated with a myth that describes him as an alchemist, able to transform lead into gold. This rumour is linked to his fortune, which in reality came from clever real estate speculation.
In any case, Nicolas Flamel has become a legend. His house, located at 51 rue de Montmorency in Paris, continues to attract the curious! The Musée de Cluny preserves his tombstone, whose epitaph recalls the donations he made to the churches and hospitals of the capital.
The chapel of the Hôtel de Cluny
Built at the end of the 15th century, this chapel was used as a place of worship until the Revolution. Later, it was used as a medical amphitheatre and then as a printing workshop. Today, it is part of the museum’s tour. With its rich sculpted decoration, it is a must-see in the Cluny Museum.
All these works and many more are waiting for you at the Cluny Museum. Enjoy your visit!
Musée de Cluny – Middle Ages museum
28 rue Du Sommerard
75005 Paris – France
Every day except Monday
From 9.30 am to 6.15 pm
Nocturne on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month until 9pm
Full price: €12
Reduced rate : 10 €
Header illustration: © Musée de Cluny 2022 / Scorpion Dagger / Oficina
Article produced in partnership with the Musée de Cluny