Essential Architecture-  Paris

Hôtel de Cluny, Musée du Moyen-Age




6 Place Paul Painlevé (corner Sommerand), 5th.


rebuilt to its present form in the period of 1485-1500


combines late Gothic and French Renaissance  elements


partially constructed on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the third century, protected by a crenellated wall. The floor plan of the building, with its outer wall and inner courtyard, is a template for the later development of private hôtels in Paris, which all used a very similar plan.


Town House (hôtel) Now Museum.
  The Musée de Cluny as viewed from the nearby park
  The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry
  Thermes de Cluny: caldarium
The Musée de Cluny, officially known as Musée National du Moyen Âge, is a museum in Paris, France. It is located in the 5th arrondissement at 6 Place Paul Painlevé, south of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the Rue Saint-Jacques.

The Hôtel de Cluny
The structure is perhaps the most outstanding example still extant of civic architecture in medieval Paris. It was formerly the town house (hôtel) of the abbots of Cluny, started in 1334. The structure was rebuilt by Jacques d'Amboise, abbot in commendam of Cluny 1485-1510; it combines Gothic and Renaissance elements. In 1843 it was made into a public museum, to contain relics of France's Gothic past preserved in the building by Alexandre du Sommerard. It no longer possesses anything originally connected with the abbey of Cluny.

Originally the hôtel, was part of a larger Cluniac complex that also included a building (no longer standing) for a religious college in the Place de la Sorbonne (just south of the present day Hôtel de Cluny along Boulevard Saint-Michel. Although originally intended for the use of the Cluny abbots, the residence was taken over by Jacques d'Amboise, Bishop of Clermont and Abbot of Jumièges, and rebuilt to its present form in the period of 1485-1500.(Horne 2004:62). Occupants of the house over the years have included Mary Tudor, who was installed here after the death of her husband Louis XII by his successor Francis I of France in 1515 so he could watch her more closely, particularly to see if she was pregnant. Seventeenth-century occupants included several papal nuncios including Mazarin. (Horne 200$:65).

In 1793 it was confiscated by the state, and for the next three decades served several functions. At one point it was owned by a physician who used the magnificent Flamboyant chapel on the first floor as a dissection room. (Michelin at 265-266).

In 1833 Alexandre du Sommerard moved here and installed here his large collection of medieval and Renaissance objects. (Album de Museé at 5). Upon his death in 1842 the collection was purchased by the state and opened in 1843, with his son as the museum's first curator. The present gardens, opened in 1971, include a "Forêt de la Licorne" inspired by the tapestries..

The Hôtel de Cluny is partially constructed on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the third century (known as the Thermes de Cluny ), which are famous in their own right and which may still be visited. In fact, the museum itself actually consists of two buildings: the frigidarium ("cooling room"), where the remains of the Thermes de Cluny are, and the Hôtel de Cluny itself, which houses its impressive collections.

‘’Seven Ages of Paris’’, Alistair Horne, (ISBN 1-4000-3446-9) 2004
‘’Michelin, the Green Guide: Paris’’, (ISBN 2060008735), 2001
Album de Museé national du Moyen Age Thermes de Cluny, Pierre-Yves Le Pogam, Dany Sandron (ISBN 2-7118-2777-1)

The museum
The Musée de Cluny houses a variety of important medieval artifacts, in particular its tapestry collection, which includes La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) from the tapestry cycle of the same name, consisting of a series of six.

Other notable works stored there include early Medieval sculptures from the seventh and eighth centuries. There are also works of gold, ivory, antique furnishings, and illuminated manuscripts.

The Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne, built in the early 1870s at 8 rue Victor Cousin, Ve arrondissement, is alleged to be haunted by Verlaine and Rimbaud.

References in literature
Herman Melville visited Paris in 1849, and the Hôtel de Cluny evidently fired his imagination. The structure figures prominently in Chapter 41 of Moby-Dick, when Ishmael, probing Ahab's "darker, deeper" motives, invokes the building as a symbol of man's noble but buried psyche.

In G. K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday", the narrator states that the wealthy Dr. Renard's rooms "were like the Museé de Cluny." (chapter XII).

This flamboyant late Gothic masterpiece was originally an embassy for the Abbot of Cluny, the most powerful monastery leader in what’s now France. The mansion was built on top of the ruins of an elaborate Roman public bath. Today, if you stand in the garden at the back of the museum, you can see how the ruins were used as a very solid and useful foundation for this elaborate private residence. The building is protected by a crenellated wall, which was a symbol of the Burgundian Abbot’s independence from the King. The floor plan of the building, with its outer wall and inner courtyard, is a template for the later development of private hôtels in Paris, which all used a very similar plan. This particular location is also important: it’s not on Isle de la Cite, the medieval heart of the city. The Abbot consciously wished to be apart from the center of the city—after all, during the Middle Ages, Burgundy was often allied with the enemies of France. The Abbot could afford to be independent; Burgundy was a wealthy duchy, made rich by its vineyards and by its control of the major pilgrimage route south. Both these sources of power are alluded to on the façade of the building, where magnificent carved grapevines twine around the entranceway and scallop shells form the hinges of the gate. Scallop shells refer to the pilgrims’ route towards Santiago de Compostella, by the sea. Pilgrims who completed the route sewed scallop shells to their cloaks, turning the symbol into a fashion accessory. Here, every peak is frilled with finials and every empty space is given pattern. The building is almost a parody of Medieval style, but it thrives on excess. It was this over-the-top quality that attracted 19th-century medieval collector Alexandre Du Sommerard, who established the medieval museum here in 1844.


By Lisa Pasold (Special thanks to
Official website, in French: [1]
Official website, in English: [2]