Treasures of the Hotel Cluny, Paris

Writing about Bruges got me thinking of Paris. They’re two of my favorite spots on the planet.

As Paris is one of my favorite cities, Hotel Cluny (the National Museum of the Middle Ages) in the Latin Quarter is one of the most amazing destinations in the city.  And it’s my favorite small museum anywhere.  Four rooms stand out:

Cluny’s collection of medieval stained glass and paintings

Cluny Stained Glass Angel. Hand-held photography by Steve Rossman

The hall of the Heads of the Kings of Judea.  During the French revolution, it’s said that the “mob” scoured the city, smashing the heads off any statues they thought were depictions of French aristocracy.  Apparently, they were mistaken about these particular heads.  We’re told that these recovered busts are actually depictions of the kings of Judea.  The heads have an eerily “alive” presence.

Cluny - Kings of Judea trio. Travel photography by Steve Rossman

The chapel.  When Cluny was an abbey and college, this was the private chapel.  The webbed ceiling is something to behold.

Cluny - chapel Ceiling.  Interior Photography by Steve Rossman

Saving the best for last, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are the prize of the museum. A modern room has been built into the medieval structure to showcase one of the most famous and beautiful series of tapestries in the world.  I could spend hours, if not days, in this circular room, surrounded by amazing tapestries.  Since light damages the fragile weavings, the photo is not mine.  I took it from the museum’s website and don’t know the photographer.

There is a postscript that would be funny if it weren’t so sad…these tapestries were embroidered some 500 years ago, using the ‘primitive’ dyes of the era.  When they were discovered, mid-20th century, hanging in a château dungeon, the bottoms were badly damaged by both water and rats.

The world’s foremost textile experts were consulted and the bottom 16″ of the tapestries were repaired and rewoven.  Here’s the rub…except for the modern bottoms, the tapestries still look brilliant.  Meanwhile, less than twenty-five years later, the new bottoms, hanging in a climate- and humidity-controlled gallery, are fading.  Badly.  Look closely, you’ll see the difference.  So much for the twin miracles of modern technology and science.  At least in this case.

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