Europe 2010: The Cluny Museum

The morning after the morning I still felt full of beans (or would that be haricots?) and so we set off for a morning at the Cluny Museum.

The Cluny is one of my favorite museums in Paris (not that I’ve seen all of them by any stretch!). It’s the museum of the Middle Ages and features an amazing collection of wood sculptures, tapestries, and various ojects d’art mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. The museum is also home to the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. The six tapestries are hung beautifully in a circular room with very low lighting. I include the tapestries in Love Among the Recipes (coming soon for download!) so it was great to see them again in the wool so to speak.

Gregg had never been to the Cluny and so very much enjoyed seeing such an amazing collection of beautiful objects. I particularly enjoyed looking at the faces of the people in the various tapestries and statues. The faces are pretty much the same ones you see walking down a typical Parisian street.

Jennifer, my character in Love Among the Recipes, visited the Cluny museum. Here’s what she had to say:

The star attraction is the series of stunning Lady and the Unicorn tapestries from the 15th Century. Five of the six tapestries depict a different sense—sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. The sixth and final tapestry is called A Mon Seul Désir which has been variously translated as by “my desire alone,” “by my will alone,” and several other versions that just add to the delicious obscurity of the tapestry’s meaning. In each tapestry stands a beautiful young woman, her elaborate medieval gown picked out in fine threads of gold, royal blue, and scarlet. On one side of her stands a lion, on the other a pure white unicorn, its horn long and slender. Both lion and unicorn look at the lday adoringly, their faces almost childlike, even goofy, in their purity and devotion. The lady herself stands serenely aloof from the action of the tapestry.

In the Hearing tapestry, the lady plays the harp with her fingers, but her gaze is faraway and distracted. In the Taste tapestry, one hand absently touches a tray of sweetmeats held by a kneeling servant. In the Sight tapestry, the front legs of the unicorn rest on the lady’s knees. She holds a mirror up to the unicorn so it sees its reflection. In the Taste tapestry, the lady holds a wreath of flowers while all around her various forest creatures hold their paws to their noses.

But it’s the Touch tapestry that really shows what those medieval tapestry workers were all about. The lady looks towards the lion which sits docile and obedient. Her right hand grasps a tall flagpole. Meanwhile, her left hand is wrapped nonchalantly around the horn of the prancing unicorn.

Hello! The symbolism is unmistakable, proving again, if we needed proof, that sex preoccupied our randy ancestors as much as it does us.

I couldn’t help staring at the tapestries for an inordinate amount of time. And as I did so, the idea for the recipe I would match with the Cluny Museum popped into my head.

After the Cluny, I took off for my exercise class in the 16th arrondisement and Gregg went to buy art  materials and spend the afternoon at the gallery.

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