Note: The museum is closed for extensive renovations until summer 2020.
Ancient Roman baths and a 15th-century mansion set the stage for a terrific collection of medieval art and objects at this museum. Built somewhere between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the baths (visible from bd. St-Michel) are some of the best existing examples of Gallo-Roman architecture. They are attached to what was once the palatial home of a 15th-century abbot, whose last owner, Alexandre du Sommerard, amassed a vast array of medieval masterworks. When he died in 1842, his home was turned into a museum and his collection put on display. Sculptures, textiles, furniture, and ceramics are shown, as well as gold, ivory, and enamel work. Of the several magnificent tapestries the biggest draw is the Lady and the Unicorn series, one of only two sets of complete unicorn tapestries in the world (the other is in New York City). In five of these late-15th-century tapestries, the lady, her unicorn, a lion, and various other symbolic representations of the animal and vegetable kingdoms illustrate the five senses, while in the sixth she stands before a tent bearing the inscription “To My Only Desire” while placing a necklace in a case held by her servant. The meaning of this last tapestry remains an enigma—but the mystery merely adds to its beauty.
- Anna Brooke