In May, Paris’ Musée de Cluny – musée national du Moyen Âge reopened its doors after nearly two years of closure. Devoted to the medieval world, the Cluny Museum is housed in an impressive building that encompasses the towering remains of Gallo-Roman Lutetia’s bath complex, the 1485 Hôtel de Cluny (a private residence built for Jacques d’Amboise, Abbot of Cluny), and 1870-1880 additions by architect Paul Boeswillwald after a museum had been established at the site earlier in the 19th century.
The long-term project, which started in 2011, has seen the restoration of the ancient bathhouse to protect parts that were left open to the elements, the Flamboyant Gothic style chapel of the Hôtel de Cluny, and the 19th-century building (in 2015-2017); the opening of a new reception area (in 2018); and the various spaces of the historic complex made accessible throughout. Visitors to the museum will now find a new route and new presentations of many of the items in its collections, bringing together around 1,600 pieces of sculpture, textiles, ivories, enamel, stained glass, metalwork, and other objects across 21 rooms.
The museum’s previous arrangement started with displays grouped according to craft and technique (as planned in the 1950s), but changes were made over the decades. The newly designed route instead largely follows a chronological arrangement. According to the museum’s director Séverine Lepape, ‘The aim was to give meaning to and compare ensembles that until now have been displayed in a rather scattered way, as were the different items from the Sainte-Chapelle, which have now been brought together in one room.’
Some objects have remained in the same space, such as the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, whose room was refurbished in 2013, and a vast portal from the Chapelle de la Vierge in St-Germain-des-Prés. Others have moved, and others still are on display for the first time, including new acquisitions and recent restorations. For example, nine fragments from the Cluny’s storerooms, one on loan from the Louvre, and one from Rouen Museum of Antiquities have been brought together to reassemble an ‘altarpiece with flayed man’.
Temporary displays planned for the year ahead include a spotlight on the museum’s architecture and on the development of its collections since 2018, and an exhibition on 14th-century art in Toulouse, organised with the Musée des Augustins.