The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge, is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Paris, a former townhouse whose construction started in 1334. Yet beneath it is something even older: the ruins of Gallo-Roman thermal baths believed to have been used by 3rd-century boatmen.
Inside the museum is a vast presentation of medieval life through sculptures, furnishings, stained glass, and manuscripts. However, the most significant objects are a group of Middle Ages tapestries known as “The Lady and the Unicorn.” Woven from wool and silk, five of the tapestries fixate on the five senses, with a woman interacting with a unicorn, as well as a lion and sometimes a monkey. For example, in the “sight” tapestry she holds up a mirror to the unicorn which looks at its gaze, possibly admiring its beautiful reflection. In “touch” she has her hand on the unicorn’s horn.
The sixth tapestry remains more of a mystery with its text ”À Mon Seul Désir” (“To my only desire”) interpreted most frequently as a declaration of independence or purity. No matter the meaning, it’s hard to escape the charms of the strangely captivating unicorn as it confidently poses through the scenes.
Know Before You Go
The Museum is open everyday except Tuesdays from 9:15 to 5:45 and entrance costs 5 Euros. The historical fiction novel The Lady and the Unicorn by the art historian-turned-novelist Tracy Chevalier is an interesting read making for a richer experience in the interpretation of the tapestry.