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at the Hôtel de Cluny, the museum of the Middle Ages is reborn

4:25 p.m., May 9, 2022

Three incredible golden crowns of Visigoth kings seem to levitate. Covered with precious stones, emeralds, amethysts, pearls, they are hung high in a central window around which you can turn to better contemplate them. These seventh-century votive offerings, discovered at Guarrazar near Toledo in Spain, are among the most fascinating pieces of the National Museum of the Middle Ages, or Cluny Museum, which reopens on May 12, after successive closures for renovations.

Previously, these jewels were simply lined up in a showcase wall, and drowned in a set devoted to goldsmithing from the vast medieval period, from the year 500 to 1515, the date of the Battle of Marignan. Now, the sumptuous crowns combining Byzantine and Germanic arts sit majestically in a room evoking these vanished worlds of the High Middle Ages, Byzantium, the Ottonians, the Merovingians…

A new entry in metal

The presentation of 1,600 works from the collections of the Cluny museum – sculptures, hangings, boxes, shields, rings, paintings… – has been completely redesigned. As well as the whole site. When the project was launched in 2011, it was simply a question of making the place accessible to people in wheelchairs. The museum, backed by the Gallo-Roman thermal baths of Lutèce, includes the 1st century frigidarium, the medieval hotel of the abbots of Cluny and a pastiche Roman-style building dating from the 19th century. That’s 28 different levels, and as many flights of steps! Since it was necessary to install elevators (there are now three), we might as well take the opportunity to restore and transform everything: the work began in 2013, with partial closures, then a total from 2020 to 2022. The cost of the site will rise to 23 million euros.

Crowns from the Treasure of Guarrazar offered to the Church by the Visigoth kings in the 7th century in Spain.


A new metal entrance, sober and contemporary, giving on the boulevard Saint-Michel, is built by the architect Bernard Desmoulin. This extension makes it possible to create cloakrooms, to accommodate the bookshop-boutique, which previously occupied a room in the medieval hotel, and more spacious ticket counters. The old entrance, only 50 square meters, has become a small café which will extend with tables set up in the paved courtyard, enclosed by a crenellated perimeter wall. It will undoubtedly be one of the prettiest hidden terraces in Paris, but reserved for visitors.

A journey from the 1st century to the beginning of the Renaissance

In the museum, the frigidarium, which exhibits the famous pillar of the Nautes, has hardly changed, as has the impressive Notre-Dame room, which had benefited from an earlier renovation. But the rest of the course was turned upside down. Gone is the presentation by type of technique – one room reserved for enamels, another for stained glass… –, imagined in 1949, at the end of the war, when the curators wanted to create a museum for the workers. Now, the visit will give the impression of a journey through time, from the 1st century, in the thermal baths (in the basement), to the beginning of the Renaissance on the first floor.

We have chosen, in this set of interlocking architectural strata, to put back the chronology to restore the context of the works

“There is a concordance between the container and the content, describes Séverine Lepape, the director of the museum. We have chosen, in this set of interlocking architectural strata, to put back the chronology to restore the context of the works, which were previously scattered in the museum. » For example, the reliquary and the sculptures of the apostles of the Sainte-Chapelle are now united with the stained glass windows of the famous monument, instead of being in three different places. “The Middle Ages is in no way monolithic, adds Séverine Lepape, but this period nevertheless corresponds to a historical reality, some aspects of which may seem difficult to understand today. »

A special children’s course, focused on games and knights

To better understand the twists and turns of this long time, visitors go back in time, discovering, for example, Romanesque capitals placed on false pillars, high up but not too high, before entering the Gothic room of Notre-Dame. . In each piece, devoted to a period – for example, to Philippe le Bel and his sons, from 1285 to 1328 – and to a given geographical area – such as Limoges or northern France –, a masterpiece is highlighted. before, such as the Shrine of the Three Kings, a casket dating from the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century, decorated with enamel. Likewise, it is impossible to miss this Virgin and Child by Jean Hey (circa 1495), a small painting with dazzling colors and tenderness: Christ, a baby like any other, is sucking his thumb. A small tablet will serve as an audio guide to help you find your way around more easily, and will include a special children’s route, focusing more on games, chess, knights’ weapons, daily life, etc.

We hope that visitors will understand that the art of the Middle Ages is an art of color, life

The novelties will be put forward, like this room devoted to the art of Italy from the 13th and 14th centuries, which did not exist. A large and beautiful sculpted wooden angel, attributed to Pisano’s entourage, stands there like a lookout with curly hair and an ideal face, announcing the Renaissance. Behind him, the delicate golden rose dating from 1330, a papal gift, from the time of the popes of Avignon, to one of his faithful, spreads its petals and its vermilion leaves without ever withering. Further on, after the former bedroom of the Abbot of Amboise, many will discover the flamboyant Gothic style chapel, renovated (from 2015 to 2017, but which was not very visible due to subsequent closures), and whose central pillar deploys its veins like a tree of stone.

The six tapestries of the mysterious unicorn lady, the “Mona Lisa” of Cluny, star of the museum, benefited from 2013 from new lighting, less violent, and from hanging on slightly inclined sides in order to reduce their weight and not deform these masterpieces. work dating from 1500. This presentation has not been modified. It is the next room, the last, which will surprise the regulars: the evocation of a church, with a choir, carved wooden stalls and lively hangings telling the story of the life of Saint Stephen hung in a large U (like the was the famous Bayeux Tapestry), which came from Auxerre Cathedral and also dates from 1500. “It’s the grand finale, says the director. We hope that visitors will understand that the art of the Middle Ages is an art of color, of life. »

Cluny Museum — National Museum of the Middle Ages, 28, rue Du Sommerard (5th). Open every day except Monday, from 9:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Full price 12 euros, reduced price 10 euros.

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