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Taking a Trip Through Times with Musée de Cluny


Located in the heart of Paris, Musée de Cluny offers a unique experience as the only museum in France to provide the opportunity to travel through the late Antiquity and Middle Ages, from the times of 100 A.D. – 1500 A.D. 21 exhibition rooms display medieval paintings, textiles, everyday objects, and other pieces of art from this time period. The museum was created in 1843 to protect the historic buildings of Hôtel de Cluny and the ancient remains of the Lutetia Thermal Baths and host the collections constituted by Alexandre Du Sommerard and the archeological deposit of Paris. Since then, the museum has worked to preserve, study, and showcase the historical value of this exceptional ensemble.

Returning to Ancient and Medieval Times

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©Musée de Cluny – musée national du Moyen Âge

The buildings of Musée de Cluny offer a realistic glimpse into historical Paris. The museum is housed in the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny, which was built at the end of the 15th century. Before entering, visitors can check out the remains of the ancient thermal baths of Lutetia, adjoining the museum and Boulevard Saint-Michel. The Gallo-roman thermal baths were built at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and “are among the largest ancient remains in northern Europe.” The tour begins with the spectacular Frigidarium, the former cold room of the thermal baths, whose vaulted ceiling still stands some 14 meters high.

The art on display along the chronological route is featured from the end of antiquity to the beginning of the Renaissance. This unique collection displays tapestries, paintings, illuminations, sculptures, goldsmithery, decorative pieces, stained glasses, and more. Famous works of art include Tapestry of the Lady and the Unicorn, Golden Rose, and Coffre: depicting the attack on the Castle of Love. Vibrant, opulent, and rich with detail, these works are reflective of the cultural values and beliefs of the time, with scenes depicting religious and mythological figures, offering a glimpse into Medieval Europe.

The works on display are not stagnant, but rather dynamic and everchanging. As for an upcoming exhibition, from September of this year to January 2024, Voyage dans le Cristal (Journey through Crystal), will present the history of the uses and beliefs of rock crystal. At a later date, in 2024, an exhibition titled “Rediscovering the Sculptures of Notre Dame de Paris” will present pieces from the exterior and interior decor of the cathedral, in the light of the most recent research and excavations. Musée de Cluny aims to open this exhibition when the cathedral does!

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©RMN-GP (musée de Cluny – musée national du Moyen Âge)/Michel Urtado

Restoration Works

With such a fantastic assortment of art offered to the public, the museum wanted to make sure that it was accessible to all. In 2020, it completely closed to finish the last stage of the work, begun in 2015, that would improve accessibility and design a new chronological route for visitors. “Since Musée de Cluny is a historical monument, this task was difficult but able to be overcome,” shared Sponsorship Manager Aurianne Ortiz. Those with health conditions or impairments, the elderly, and families with younger children were taken into consideration. With an improved layout and modernized street-level entry, the museum is now fully wheelchair accessible. The museum successfully gained visibility from Boulevard St. Michel with a new reception building designed by the architect Bernard Desmoulins. Other improvements made included: adding more space to expand the collections, providing more modern facilities to the public, and improving the circulation within the building. 

When Musée de Cluny reopened in 2022, it featured an exhibition to showcase the acquisitions the museum made during the years it was closed for major restoration. “It is important to show to the public that even when a museum is closed, it remains very dynamic. The museum has continued to enrich the national collection for the benefit of all,” acknowledged Ortiz.

Envisionment for the Future

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©Musée de Cluny – musée national du Moyen Âge/Alexis Paoli

While strides to improve accessibility and visibility have been taken, the work is not yet complete. In a continuing effort to reach a larger audience, the development of content in English and the modernization of the website are future objectives. Aside from these aims, the restoration of Jardin des Abbés is planned to re-establish the Hôtel de Cluny’s original garden, as well as the urgent protection of the ancient remains of the Roman baths. The restoration of all the Hôtel’s façades is also on the agenda. Laced within each aim is the desire to make the museum more accessible to all and preserve the value found within its walls. The exhibition “Rediscovering the Sculptures of Notre Dame de Paris” also needs funding for its scenography, including the replacement of the 1980s mounts with more suitable and attractive morphological pedestals and new display cases, intended to remain after the exhibition to complete the permanent presentation of the Notre-Dame room.

Partnering with Friends of Fondation de France

Musée de Cluny and Friends of Fondation de France began to partner at the end of 2013 to enable US donors to support the exciting exhibition “Travel during the Middle Ages”. Ever since Friends of Fondation de France has proudly supported Musée de Cluny. If you are interested in contributing to the improvements at Musée de Cluny or have a desire to donate to a cause rooted in preserving historical artifacts, consider making a donation. Donations help preserve and restore historical buildings, the garden, and works of art. They also support the organization of exhibitions and development of the cultural and educational offerings through the acquisition of new artworks and the development of a new website. Thanks to Friends of Fondation de France, US donors who value the work of Musée de Cluny can support them and make tax-deductible gifts to the fullest extent of the law.

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