The love between dogs and humans runs deep according to the magnificent tapestries we saw this week at the Museé de Cluny. We originally went to see the famously enigmatic Lady and the Unicorn tapestries but we were more taken with the overwhelming representation of canine friends among the other tapestries on display from the middle ages.
And what better time for us to make this little find as we were dog-sitting a friend’s adorable fox terrier all week. We felt like Tintin!
The hôtel was originally built in 1334 to house the abbots of Cluny and was then rebuilt by Jacques d’Amboise between 1485 – 1510. The building itself is a mix between Gothic and Renaissance era architecture which was partially constructed using materials taken from the 3rd century Roman baths once located on the site.
The baths are still somewhat in tact, with soaring stone ceilings, relics and ancient doorways on display. We loved the transitions between the hôtel and the baths, as well as the sympathetic integration of contemporary architecture to modernise the building while allowing light to penetrate the underground caverns.
Another interesting feature within the baths were the disembodied heads taken from stone statues of Israeli kings which were torn down from Notre Dame during the French Revolution and only rediscovered in 1977.
Art historian Steven Smith has his own theories about what happened to the heads and why they were hidden during the revolution. Check out his BBC documentary below Tearing Up History which explains the revolution through art. It’s a great watch. The section about the beheaded statues begins at 41:33.
The dark lighting throughout the museum made it difficult to take photos so we again focused on details to showcase the incredible workmanship in each tapestry. We love the idea that the relationship between dogs and humans has gone largely unchanged since the middle ages which was evidenced by the reverent and amusing representations of the little creatures in most of the tapestries.
Although dogs would have served a larger role as service animals for hunting or herding during that time, many of the representations seemed wholly domestic in nature. The special connection between dogs and humans is certainly an enduring one. Can we also take a moment to appreciate the outrageous tights and shoes on the legs around the dogs? Hilarious!
Not only dogs were represented but also monkeys, foxes and other small creatures. There was even a porcupine but our photograph was too blurry to publish. Try to find it if you take a trip to the museum. It’s like a hidden easter egg.
The quality of the tapestries, particularly the Lady and the Unicorn, were astounding. The museum allows you to get very close to the textiles and see the beautiful work that has lasted all this time.
One last notable tapestry was a long series that featured a narrative written along the bottom of each tapestry in French along with speech bubbles used for the characters who all spoke in latin.
Could this have been the origin of the graphic novel? The episodic nature of the story and the separation of the scenes on different tapestries read just like a comic book. Who knew tapestries could be so contemporary.
We had our reservations about the museum at first as the middle ages isn’t exactly a hot topic for us, but we went anyway just to see the textiles on show. If you have reservations like we did, ignore them and check out the museum. It’s a fascinating place filled with much more than we’ve featured here.