MUSÉE DE CLUNY DIARY

Sorry the photos do not always show the objects described in the text.

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The chapel of the Musée de Cluny

One of my favorite museums in Paris is the Musée de Cluny, which houses a treasure trove of medieval art. Converted in 1843 to a museum, it is situated on the site of the former baths of Lutetia, a Gallo-Roman site. At one time, it was also home to abbots of Cluny.

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The baths of Lutetia are situated on three levels. They were most likely constructed in late 1 AD and served this function for 200 years. In 1862, they were recognized as a historical monument.  The townhouse that once was the residence of the abbots is another architectural delight. The huge inner courtyard includes an external spiral staircase. The facades are adorned with many Gothic sculptures. The decoration of an oriel amazes, too. Renaissance and Gothic art features prominently there.

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The museum isn’t only a showcase for medieval art. I also found Byzantine and Romanesque artifacts as well as metalwork and enamelware made in Limoges workshops. These included crosses, altarpieces and reliquaries, such as the reliquary of the murdered archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett (1170). The gold votive crowns from Visigoth Spain hailed from the seventh century and served as prime examples of early Western art.

However, what fascinated me the most was the Gothic art. I loved the stained glass windows from Sainte Chapelle, a must for me every time I visited Paris. These windows dated from the middle of the 13th century. Three of the Apostle statues from Sainte-Chapelle were also on display. I loved the detailed drapery of the religious figures.

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I also saw the Virgin and Child, dating from 1240 to 1250, carved out of elephant ivory with the detailed folds of drapery on both figures. The Virgin was in the midst of making a gesture with one hand. Her hand looked as though it was in motion. The other hand held onto Jesus so gently, so lovingly. The smile on Jesus’ face was so bright, cheerful and contagious.

The objects from 15th century France tended to be morbid in nature. Indeed, even pictures of decaying corpses were on display. These figures were mostly comprised of reliquaries, statues, small altarpieces and stained glass.

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One unique artifact was a mask of a recumbent effigy from Tournai about 1400. I could see aging features on the face, particularly in the forehead. A winged vase was covered in brown and blue decoration on a white background and had a dynamic flair. Coats-of-arms adorned the central part of the vase. It hailed from Valencia, dating from 1465 to 1469.

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However, my favorite items in the museum were the six panels of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, in which the unicorn and a lady of noble stature were the protagonists. The six tapestries were created in Flanders around 1500 from wool and silk. They are considered some of the premiere works of art made during the Middle Ages. Five of the six panels evoked the senses while the meaning of the sixth one remains a mystery.

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In the sixth tapestry, a unicorn standing on two legs and a lion flanked the lady and her servant, a tent and trees behind them. In front of the tent, I saw French words that could be translated as “love desires only the beauty of the soul.” In the pictorial narrative, the servant was holding an open chest while the smiling lady put a necklace that she was wearing in the other tapestries into the chest. It was notable that the lady is smiling; in the other five tapestries, she was not. The background was made up of flowers and animals. The tapestry could have a spiritual or moral theme or could stand for love and understanding.

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Other tapestries on display that astounded me included three scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary (1499) and the Tapestry of Saint Stephen (1500). The Grape Harvest tapestry, hailing from the Netherlands in the 16th century, showed figures with detailed clothing making precise gestures as some picked grapes and other pressed them. I recalled all the amazing tapestries I had seen in the Vatican Museums while I stared, in awe, at the many tapestries in the Cluny Museum.

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I also loved the altarpieces and triptychs. The triptych of The Mass of Saint Gregory hailed from Westphalia in the late 15th century. It depicts the Pope seeing the apparition of Christ. The Presentation in the Temple is a triptych made in France during the third quarter of the 15th century. I liked the child’s wooden horse and the Gothic vaulting of the temple. The Life or the Virgin Mary was a gem of painted terracotta with much detail, created by Arnt von Zwolle in 1483. The Altarpiece of the Passion came from the Netherlands and Champagne in the early 16th century. Those are just a few examples.

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I left the museum with a much more poignant perspective on medieval art. I can’t wait to go back there someday – hopefully, someday soon. . . .

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Gordes Photo Diary

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One of the most picturesque villages I have ever visited is Gordes. It was certainly a highlight of my 10-day trip to Provence. I loved meandering down the narrow, steep, romantic streets flanked by stone buildings with terracotta roof tiles. We were there on a Tuesday, when the weekly market is held, and I enjoyed examining the vendors’ wares and wound up buying two exquisite scarves. The views of the countryside were incredible, and away from the main square, it was tranquil. I found a quaint restaurant with simple yet attractive décor for lunch, too.

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Gordes is located in the Vauclause Hills at 373 meters above sea level. It has about 2,000 inhabitants and encompasses 4,804 hectares. The name Gordes is Celtic in origin. Romans built forts in Gordes when they ruled. During the fifth century, when the Barbarians, Visigoths and Lombardians raided the plains where many settlements were located, people fled to the hills, which became villages in the 10th century.

The castle was first mentioned in writing during 1031 and was reconstructed in 1521, during the Renaissance. However, the lords did not reside there because Gordes was in such a remote location.

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The village blossomed economically in the 18th and 19th centuries with craft production, tanners and shoemakers in great demand. Olive oil was also manufactured there. No less than 18 windmills were located in the village before the onset of the First World War, which brought terrible times to the village. Gordes was depopulated, and there was much poverty.

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During World War II Gordes was home to many resistance fighters. When members of the resistance killed Nazi soldiers in the village during August of 1944, the Germans got revenge by shooting villagers and destroying property. Thirteen inhabitants were murdered in Gordes during the war. Later the village received a medal for its resistance activity.

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After the war, Gordes got a new lease on life. Artists flocked to the village, and painter Marc Chagall and others settled there. During the 1950s, when tourists discovered the village, Gordes was rebuilt and acquired the picturesque appearance it has today.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Les Baux-de-Provence Photo Diary

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One glance at Les Baux-de-Provence and I understood why this village was dubbed one of the most picturesque in France. This rocky hilltown in Provence cast a spell on me from the moment I laid eyes on it. I walked along the narrow, steep streets flanked by art galleries, craft shops and a few churches. The small squares were enchanting, too. I tasted my first lavender ice cream, the most delicious flavor I had ever tried. The Renaissance facades were charming. There are no less than 22 historic monuments in Les Baux. I loved the romantic castle ruins, sprawled onto seven hectares. Breathtaking views of the Alpilles Mountains, Arles and the Camargue region abounded. Even though it was a ruin, I could feel the history of the castle that had been built from the 11th to 13th century.

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Our guide told us about the history of the village. Les Baux-de-Provence can trace its origins back to the Bronze Age, to 6000 BC. The village is mentioned in 10th century documents. The Princes of Baux successfully guarded the region for many years until they were defeated in the Bauessenque Wars of the 12th century. The castle was attacked on numerous occasions during the Middle Ages. The Renaissance proved to be a prosperous time.

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A significant event occurred in 1642, when King Louis XIII presented the lordship of Les Baux-de-Provence to Hercule Grimaldi, then the Prince of Monaco. Even today, the Prince of Monaco holds the official title of Marquis des Baux. During the 19th century, the village became a sort of ghost town; for the most part, it was abandoned. Then, following the Second World War, an entrepreneur opened a gourmet restaurant on the rocky outcrop. Food connoisseurs were not the only people who started to flock to Les Baux. It soon became a tourist attraction and remains so, as was evidenced during my day there by the large crowds that had inundated the village. Still, even the large number of tourists couldn’t make Les Baux lose its charm.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

 

Musée du Petit Palais Photo Diary

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In June of 2015, I visited the Musée du Petit Palais in Avignon and was enamored by the Italian primitive and early Renaissance painting as well as the impressive Renaissance works rendered by the French Avignon School. The 14th century building houses art created from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 16th century in chronological and geographical order and includes The Virgin and Child by Sandro Botticelli. Some styles represented include the Siennese School, Florentine Renaissance and the Marches School. There are about 300 Italian paintings housed in the museum that was established in 1976. The structure used to be a citadel, an archbishopric and a Catholic secondary school before it became a museum.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.