The National Medieval Art Museum in Paris, also known as the Musée Cluny, is one of Europe's loveliest collections dedicated to the arts, daily life, social and religious history of the Middle Ages in France. Housed in the gothic-style Hôtel de Cluny, a 15th century mansion which was itself built atop the foundations of Roman thermal baths, the permanent collections at the museum are especially rich and include the iconic Flanders tapestry known around the world for its enigmatic beauty, The Lady and the Unicorn.
The Roman frigidarium is fascinating, as are objects of daily life, art and clothing from the medieval period.
Read related: 6 Places to Get Your Medieval Fix in Paris
Location and Contact Information:
Hôtel de Cluny
6, place Paul Painlevé
Metro/RER: Saint-Michel or Cluny-la-Sorbonne
Tel : +33(0)1 53 73 78 00
E-mail staff: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the official website
Opening Hours and Tickets:
The museum is open every day except Tuesday, from 9:15 to 5:45. The ticket office closes at 5:15 pm.
Closed: January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
Tickets: Current full-price tickets for the Musée National du Moyen Age are 8.50 Euros (note: this is susceptible to change at any time). The admission fee is waived for European visitors under 26 with a valid photo ID. Entrance is free to all visitors on the first Sunday of the month (a small fee is charged for the audioguide.
Access to the medieval garden is entirely free.
Sights and Attractions Nearby:
- Latin Quarter
- Sorbonne University
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Jardin du Luxembourg and the Musée du Luxembourg
Layout of the Collections at Cluny:
The Museum is laid out into several thematic collections (see a complete map and guide to the collections at the official website here).
The Ground Floor: Includes the Gallo-Roman baths (temporary exhibits are held here), beautiful stained-glass windows from the medieval period, and statuary.
The First Floor: The Rotunda of the Lady and the Unicorn, other tapestries and fabrics, paintings, woodcarvings, goldsmith works, and objects used in daily and military life.
The medieval-style garden is located on the side of the Hôtel de Cluny facing Boulevard St-Germain, and is accessible for free.
Highlights of the Permanent Collections:
The permanent exhibits at the museum offer a broad overview of arts and artisanry from the early Middle Ages through the cusp of the Renaissance in the 15th century. The museum is especially strong for its collection of medieval fabrics and tapestries from Europe, ,Iran and the Middle East. Also make sure to admire the medieval statuary, objects from everyday life (clothing, shoes, accessories, hunting artifacts), religious painting and wood carvings, stained glass panels, and delicate manuscripts. On the ground floor, a visit to all that remains of the Roman thermal baths that once stood here, the Frigidarium, now houses temporary exhibits. Outside stand the ruins of the Caldarium (hot bath) and Tepidarium (tepid bath).
The Lady and the Unicorn: An Outstanding Example of Flanders Tapestry
The most celebrated work at the museum is undoubtedly the enormous 15th century tapestry, La Dame et la Licorne, which is housed in its own low-light rotunda on the first floor of the museum.
Attributed to anonymous, late 15th century Flanders weavers and inspired by a medieval German legend, the work is composed of six panels representing the five human senses and a final panel ostensibly meant to bring the knowledge of these senses into a single allegorical image. French writer Prosper Mérimée helped make it famous after he discovered it in an obscure French castle, and later Romantic writer George Sand immortalized it in her works.
The enigmatic tapestry shows a lady interacting with a unicorn and other animals in various scenes representing the pleasures (and dangers) of the senses.
Touch, Sight, Smell, Taste and Hearing make up the five main panels, and a sixth panel, cryptically named "A mon seul désir" (To My Only Desire) is thought by some art historians to possibly represent the triumph of moral and spiritual clarity over the trappings of the senses.
The unicorn and the lion depicted in the panels wear armour with crests identifying the benefactor of the work as Jean le Viste, a noble who was close to King Charles VII.
The tapestry captured the imagination of Romantic writers like Mérimée and Sand and continues to fascinate for its allegorical depth and vibrant yet subtle use of texture and color. Make sure to reserve plenty of time to sit and meditate on the work.
The Medieval Garden
The aromatic medieval-style garden at the Hôtel de Cluny is an essential destination for those interested in the history of medicinal plant and herb cultivation. The garden includes a "kitchen garden" featuring common vegetables such as chives and cabbage; a medicinal garden growing with sage and eight other essential herbs, while a lovely path around the garden is lined with wallflowers, valerian, and Christmas roses. There are also fragrant plants such as jasmine and honeysuckle.