The Cluny Museum, also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, was founded in 1843. It is located in the Latin Quarter in a much older building, the former Cluny Abbey, built in the late fifteenth century on the site of the Gallo-Roman baths from the first to third centuries.
Parts of the original Gallo-Roman baths are still (or again) visible, so when you go down some steps you are suddenly dropped from the Middle Ages back into Roman times, more than a millennium earlier.
As of 2021, the Cluny Museum is closed for repairs and expansion. It is scheduled to re-open in 2022.
Excavations and building projects in the nineteenth century turned up numerous medieval statues, often without heads, since in some phases of French history it was the custom to behead the statues of people they no longer liked, such as kings or bishops.
In some cases, the heads were also found and brought to sites like La Rotonde de la Villette for examination and storage. Some were eventually brought to the Cluny Museum for display.
One of my preconceptions about medieval art was that all the people looked the same, with no individual traits or characteristics. But this is not always true, certainly not in this woodcarving of The Kiss of Judas, made in Brabant around the year 1500. Here each apostle is an individual. Each one looks different.
(For another woodcarving from the same period, also showing the apostles with distinctive individual features, see the third photo in my post on the Museum in Oldenburg Palace in Oldenburg, Germany.)
There are numerous woodcarvings in the Cluny Museum, as well as pieces of antique furniture made of wood. A number of these wooden objects have ominous little holes in them, indicating the presence of wood worms. But presumably these have been treated so that the wood worms are now dead and only the little holes remain.
The Cluny Museum is justly famous for the many medieval tapestries displayed on its walls. These were made of wool and silk, woven by hand and contain amazing amounts of detail.
This style of tapestries is called mille-fleurs meaning a thousand flowers. I haven’t counted the flowers in this tapestry (just above), but I think there are several hundred of them, along with five elegantly dressed people and numerous birds.
Here we have a gentleman on horseback, two ladies on another horse, numerous finely dressed servants on foot, some children and dogs, some castles in the background — the longer you look, the more you find.
This tapestry is the last in a series about upper class life in the Middle Ages, showing the funeral of the local ruler, surrounded by mourners and with angels overhead.
The most famous exhibit in the Cluny Museum is a set of six 15th-century tapestries called The Lady and the Unicorn, which I have discussed in a separate post.
Location and aerial view of the Cluny Museum on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2021.