This place is an absolute jewel on so many levels. An intimate setting in a historic building from the 15th century, housing treasures from the Middle Ages, the Musée de Cluny has always been one of my favorite Paris visits. It is located in the same neighborhood as our last visit, right at the corner of Bd. St-Michel and Bd. St-Germain in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Before you even enter, you have before you one of the rare non-church buildings in Paris dating from the 15th century built in what is called secular Gothic. It was originally the home of members of the Cluny religious order.
The Musée de Cluny is now called the Musée Nationale du Moyen-Age. Here you will find a beautiful collection of sculpture, stained glass, and other art objects from the Middle Ages, from around the 12th to the end of the 15th centuries. Another amazing aspect of this museum is that long before it was a house, it was the site of Gallo-Roman thermal baths called the Thermes. This facility, built around 200 A.D. was open to the public, and many of the ruins can be viewed from the street as you pass by. You can also visit the restored baths on the interior of the museum. Another reminder that Paris was a flourishing city almost 2000 years ago! But of all the beautiful objects in the Cluny, perhaps the most compelling is the work called La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady with the Unicorn).
This is a six-panel tapestry housed in its own private room and dates from around 1500.. A tapestry is a woven art form, in this case in wool and silk, and most frequently originating from artists in Flanders, in what is today Belgium. Your first sight of this magnificent work will take your breath away. There are six large panels arranged along the walls, each panel showing a noble lady with a unicorn on her left and a lion on her right. Each panel depicts one of the five senses, and you see a portion of the display at the top of this page. For a detailed look at each panel accompanied by music of the period, see the video included at the end of this blog. The 6th panel is shown just above and is the one that has intrigued people down through the centuries. On the tent above the lady is written “A mon seul désir” (to my only desire). What does it mean? Is it a “6th sense”? She is reaching into a jewel box. Is that a hint as to the meaning of the words? I would be interested to see what my readers think of these words. Please leave your ideas and comments below. I have thought a lot about these words and what they might point to. If we ask ourselves, “what is our only desire?” and look more deeply within, I believe we will find that what humans long for is something way beyond the everyday needs and desires of our lives, something beyond the understandings of our mind. I think we all feel some kind of an attraction to a higher and deeper sense of being, of goodness, truth and beauty. For me, this is said beautifully in the expression “Enchanted by the Mystery.”