Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Medieval Manners 101 – Ignoring the giant monkey in the room

Every once in a while I decide to explore a museum by myself and it always leads me down a rabbit hole of adventure.

That’s because history = FUN

The lucky winner today was the Musée de Cluny!

It’s a medieval museum on the grounds of an old abbey in the middle of historic Paris.

What I love about the middle ages is that this period in history was like Game of Thrones, but so much better because it’s real.

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My trip to the museum reminded me of how crazy those lords and ladies could be. So I thought I would share the crazy.

Lady of the Unicorn 

The Cluny Museum is actually famous for having this mysterious tapestry of a woman with a unicorn. There are 6 panels – 5 of which actually illustrate the 5 senses.

The sixth is, however, a mystery. The label reads “A mon seul désir,” which basically means “This is my only desire.” The woman is leaving a tent and giving away an expensive looking necklace.

What does this mean? Nobody knows! Investigations must be made, I think.

What struck me the most, however, was the fact that the tapestries featured many different animals that you don’t normally see in medieval imagery.

The unicorn is an obvious one, but each panel also featured a monkey!

I was listening to an audio guide while I was looking at the Lady (and her menagerie) when I noticed that the guide completely skipped over the fact that there are monkeys in the tapestry!

No mention of symbolism or significance – nothing!

So let’s play a game.

I’m going to show you pictures of the tapestry. Let’s see how many you can find.

Bonus if you can tell me the significance 😉

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Sense of Touch

My only desire

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Sense of hearing

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Sense of smell

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Sense of sight

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Sense of taste

Monks are people too!  

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Have you ever had to stand and pray for hours at a time?

I’m guessing not.

Those poor medieval monks did though…

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see that they cheated!

Yes, as you can see, they had a very small ledge on the underside of their folding chairs so that they could rest, while still looking like they’re standing up.

Genius!

Where old meets….old (?!)

One of the cool things about this museum is that it actually takes up three buildings. One of which is an old Roman bath!

Note : The French are very picky about their ancient Roman history and say “gallo-romain,” which specifies to the roman province of gaul. It’s their equivalent of saying Roman Britain.

There is actually a room where you can see the divide in between the medieval abbey and the Roman baths.

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Roman Wall

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Medieval fortifications (Roman wall behind me)

I think it’s very cool that you can see the fluidity of change and how we reuse urban space over time.

Bonus picture! 

There was a part of the museum that showcased tapestries that are meant to represent the daily life of the nobility. 

I came across this gem :

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Sorry for the poor quality, but as you can see it’s a woman taking a bath with a bunch of people around her, including musicians.

All I could think when I saw this was how awkward it must have been like this :

Farewell Lords and Ladies, until next time!

  

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6 thoughts on “Medieval Manners 101 – Ignoring the giant monkey in the room

  1. Super-informative and cool.

    Thanks for the medieval details. Unicorns! Monkeys!

  2. Did they tell you the name of the cheat seats? They’re called “misericords” (not to be confused with “misericordes”—the stiletto-like knives).

  3. I’m pretty sure those benches in the museum are later than the Medieval period — although I could be wrong…. did they provide a date? It was a while ago that I was in Paris…

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