The Musee Nationale de Moyen Age (formerly Musee Cluny) is a repository of art and artifacts from the Middle Ages. Hotel Cluny is one of only two remaining examples of medieval architecture in Paris, built first by abbots in 1310 and rebuilt extensively as a private residence in 1510. These structures rest in part on the five-foot-thick walls of the Roman baths that date from the second century. Inside, filtered light wafts from the 50-foot-high vaulted ceilings into the Frigidarium, the last of three phases of Roman body care that began with the hot Caldarium. The museum’s collection includes a few of the 21 heads of the Kings of Judea Gallery recovered from Notre Dame, as well as tons of ceramics, sculpted gold and silver, and everyday objects of the Middle Ages.
Exhibits are displayed along an exhaustive tour of the building’s stairways, cubbyholes, and anterooms. Getting the most attention, considered to be the greatest art from the Middle Ages, is a series of six wool-and-silk tapestries, collectively named The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame a la Licorne). Though the subject of much interpretation, the dark, lyrical tapestries depict a noblewoman with a lion and unicorn in various settings, and are widely thought to represent the five senses, with the sixth tapestry being a portrayal of love and understanding. This building with a long past became a museum in 1945.