Paris: Musée de Cluny






“In the Roman period, the northern thermal baths of Lutèce covered the area roughly mapped out by the boulevards of Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain, the rue de Cluny and the rue des Écoles. Extending over some 6,000 m², they constituted the largest public baths in this Gallo-Roman city…The walls that have been conserved are distinctive for their high quality, made up of alternating layers of limestone rubble stone and horizontal bricks, in accordance with the opus vittatum mixtum technique. In the frigidarium, the most spectacular space still visible today, the visitor is invited to discover these facings as well as the original floor and the groin vault, which culminates at a height of almost 14 metres and still partly features its original coatings. Most of the decor is lost today, with the exception of the consoles of the frigidarium which are adorned with reliefs depicting ships.” Musée de Cluny


“This elephant ivory statuette made in Constantinople in the early 6th century was found in a tomb in the Rhine valley, with two lion heads in rock crystal. Sculpted in haut-relief, it depicts Ariadne, a mythological figure associated with Bacchus, dressed in a soft and flowing tunic draped so as to reveal a breast. The eyes were once inlaid with glass beads. Bacchus’ companion, crowned by two “cupids”, is flanked by two figures that often accompany here in representations of Dionysian processions: a satyr and a maenad playing cymbals.” Musée de Cluny


“This altar frontal, an exceptional imperial gift for Basel cathedral inspired by antiquity and Byzantium, dates from the 1st half of the 11th century. The opulence of the gold, both a precious material and a symbol of light in the Middle Ages, crafted using the “repoussé” technique in bas-relief, glorifies the Christ surrounded by archangels and St Benedict. The Virtues are depicted as busts within medallions. The German Emperor Henry II (or Henry III), the donor, and his wife are shown prostrated at the feet of Christ, signifying their personal devotion.” Musée de Cluny


“Initially located on the inner side of the south façade of the transept of Notre-Dame in Paris, Adam, probably sculpted by Pierre de Montreuil in the mid-13th century, was accompanied by an Eve who no longer remains. It was moved after the Revolution and entered the Musée de Cluny in 1887.
This two-meter-tall masterpiece of Gothic sculpture is rare in its representation of the nude, inspired by the esthetic canons of antiquity.
When it was restored (the arms and legs had been broken during the 19th century), the piece of fruit that Adam may have been holding in his right hand was replaced by the gesture of blessing that he appears about to perform today.” Musée de Cluny


“The 28 monumental statues of the kings of Judah overlooking the west façade of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris were deposited and destroyed during the French Revolution. Missing until 1977, 21 of them (plus other fragments) were discovered during works in the courtyard of a private town house in the 9th arrondissement of Paris…The careful execution of the features of these ancestors of the Virgin is especially remarkable because, due to the height at which they were places, the details were not visible. A delicate polychrome, the key remains of which are still visible, further enhances these features.” Musée de Cluny


“The Chapel follows a nearly square plan. Its vault boasts an intricate patternwork of souets and mouchettes between its ribs which fall onto one single central pillar , in a movement reminiscent of the branches of a palm tree. These patterns which are usually found in the tracery in bays are used in a more unconventional way here, thus showing the outstanding quality of the work. The only remaining elements of the keystones are the visible fixation points. The walls of the Chapel are occupied by corbels surmounted by canopies. The twelve corbels are a true stone lacework. They did not house the apostolic college as expected but the most influential members of the family of Jacques d’Amboise, shown praying (among whom his brother Georges, a Cardinal and a Minister of King Louis XII of France). The three figureheads presented on the altar are the only remains of a surprising and peculiar carved animal showing. The statue’s corbels convey the animal and vegetal world. Snails and lizards inhabit intertwined cabbage and acanthus leaves.” Musée de Cluny


“Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight… These six tapestries, woven in around 1500, represent the five senses against a detailed red background. The remaining sixth sense, explained only by the inscription “À mon seul désir” (To my only desire), has inspired countless theories. Without excluding a possible meaning in the register of courtly love, it could be a reference to free will: the woman with her decorative headdress and refined clothing, renouncing temporal pleasures. These “millefleurs” (“thousand flowers”) tapestries are characterized by an abundance of flora, including flowers, orange trees, pines, hollies and oaks, and are inhabited by a peaceable bestiary (a monkey, dogs, rabbits and a heron).  In this idyllic natural setting conducive to contemplation, the unicorn by turns a participant and a simple spectator. Accompanied by a lion, it sports the coat of arms of the Le Viste family in every scene.” Musée de Cluny

The Lady and the Unicorn is featured in the Harry Potter movies in the Gryffindor Tower.

Learn more about the Lady and the Unicorn on this page


Khan Academy

Musée de Cluny

Deutsch, Lorant. Métronome : L’histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien. Michel Lafon, 2014.

Gray-Durant, Delia. Blue Guide Paris . Blue Guides, 2015.

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004.

King, Ross. The Judgment of Paris. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006.

Norwich, John Julius. A History of France. Grove Atlantic, 2018.

Price, Roger. A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Steves, Rick; Smith, Steve; Openshaw, Gene. Rick Steves’ Paris 2014 . Avalon Travel, 2014

John William Bailly 06 JuLY 2022

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