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The arts in France under Charles VII at the Cluny Museum Paris 5th

The Cluny Museum highlights a crucial moment in history and art history, namely the reign of Charles VII (1422-1461). This period, anchored in tumult, bears within itself the beginnings of the extraordinary artistic revival of the end of the 15th century. The exhibition aims to reveal the full diversity of artistic production during the reign of Charles VII, bringing together prestigious works such as illuminated manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, pieces of goldwork, stained glass and tapestries.

Date: From March 12, 2024 to June 16, 2024

Location: Cluny Museum

Desires: Middle Ages, History, exceptional place

Musée de Cluny
Musée de Cluny

Among the exceptional pieces on display, we find the canopy of Charles VII (tapestry, Louvre museum), the manuscript of the Grandes Heures de Rohan (BNF), the painting of the Annunciation of Aix (Aix-en-Provence) by Barthélémy d'Eyck, painter of Duke René d'Anjou who illuminates his Book of Tournaments (BNF), as well as the alabaster recumbent figure of Agnès Sorel (City of Loches). An entire section is devoted to Jean Fouquet, one of the greatest French painters of the 15th century. A talented illuminator, he is the author of the famous portrait painted on wood of Charles VII (Louvre Museum), judiciously presented at the heart of the exhibition.


A setting for a museum...

The powerful order of Cluny, established in Burgundy and commanding a vast network of abbeys throughout Western Europe, strategically owned three colleges near the centers of power in Paris, Avignon, and Dole in the land of the Empire. These establishments welcomed novices of the order for their university training. The Parisian college, erected in the 13th century to the south of the current Place de la Sorbonne, was the place of study for novices, while the Abbot of Cluny, during his stays in the capital, had a suitable residence to its status, located in the immediate vicinity.

Regarding the history of construction, the initial residence, contemporary with the college, is only known through an archive mention. The current mansion was built from 1485 by Jacques d'Amboise, abbot of Cluny, member of an influential family from the end of the 15th century. As head of the Cluniac order, the young abbot oversaw the construction of a building intended to magnify his status, using expensive materials, a complex plan, and opulent decor.

The abbots' hotel, a place of residence and representation, leans on and blends intimately with the Gallo-Roman thermal baths which occupy the west of the plot. The integration of these imposing ancient buildings is not unique; it is partly explained by the economic dimension of the architectural project. It would have been expensive to destroy these ancient structures to obtain open land, incurring colossal labor costs with no possibility of selling the salvaged materials. The project manager therefore ingeniously took advantage of these constraints.

Built in the Gothic style, the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny adopts the innovative concept of the private mansion, an urban architectural formula which enjoyed great success during the Ancien Régime. The crenellated wall overlooking the street borders a vast interior courtyard accessible via a carriage entrance and a ticket office. The facades are richly decorated in a flamboyant Gothic style. The coat of arms of Jacques d'Amboise adorns the pediments of the high dormer windows and the sides of the staircase tower, affirming the power and rank of the sponsor. The central main building is framed by two wings, one to the east housing the kitchens on the ground floor, the other to the west forming an upstairs gallery with a series of open arcades. The architect skillfully exploited an irregular plot and found innovative solutions to integrate the ancient buildings.

The chapel, the jewel of the hotel, occupies a special position at the rear of the building, marking its private character. Almost square in plan, it deploys from its single central pillar a dense network of ribs. It also functioned as a distribution hinge, allowing the abbot to access the garden on one level via a spiral staircase leading to a vaulted space. Formerly shallow, the garden followed the axis of the main building. To the west, two hanging gardens were installed on the thick vaults of the frigidarium and the current Romanesque room (room 10).

Today, the Hôtel des Abbots de Cluny was restored in the 19th century, scrupulously preserving its facades and roofs according to the original provisions.

However, the urban fabric in which it was once enveloped has disappeared due to the town planning work of Baron Haussmann, significantly modifying the perception of this "urban nugget" thus described by Prosper Mérimée, once a civil medieval jewel.

Date: From March 12, 2024 to June 16, 2024

Location: Cluny Museum

Desires: Middle Ages, History, exceptional place

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