October 2015

La Dame à la Licorne Prize:
Dévotion et séduction. Sculptures souabes…

Sophie Guillot de Suduiraut is the 2015 laureate for the Dame à la Licorne Prize, awarded by the Friends of the Cluny Museum, for her book Dévotion et séduction. Sculptures souabes des musées de France (vers 1460-1530), co-edited by the Louvre Museum and Somogy éditions d’Art.

The prize, which was awarded on October 14 at the Cluny Museum, honors an ambitious catalogue which inventories fifty sculptures representative of an art that blossomed in Swabia, in the southern German Empire, at the end of the Middle Ages. A peaceful grace, delicate sensitivity, and gentle familiarity mark the virtuoso work of these wooden sculptures, harmoniously bathed in precious gold and color. Three prefatory chapters discuss Swabia, its sculptors and centers of production, the techniques of carving and polychrome application, and the religious function of these sculpted images, whose flowering withered with the Reformation.

This generously illustrated corpus is the fruit of a life-time’s research. The author, who is honorary curator in the Department of Sculpture at the Louvre Museum, combed the reserves of countless museums searching through medieval collections of sculpture from Germany and the Low Countries, which is her specialty. The pieces studied here come mostly from retables that have been broken up and are housed today in twenty French museums, including four pieces in the Cluny Museum. When brought together, their seduction is always powerful.

To browse online > > >


© Auctioneve

June 2015

Two seals: mercy and commerce

When an important collection was auctioned at Drouot on June 24th , the Friends of the museum acquired the matrices of two seals that had caught the attention of the curators.

One certifies an indulgence granted to the owner for his donation made to ransom captives. The seal was issued by the Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives. Circular in form, it bears the image of the crucified Christ flanked by the cross of the Trinitarian order and the papal shield of Pius II, pope between 1458 and 1464, which provides a precise dating for the object.

The other, almond-shaped seal is that of a wool or cloth merchant in Flanders or the Artois, Clarbaut-Willemin. It bears the scissors of a tailor and dates from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.

The two seals portray contrasting aspects of life in the late Middle Ages: charitable works of mercy and the growing importance of bourgeois merchants and artisans.


© Primardeco

April 2015

Acquisition of a Ballock or Kidney Dagger

The Friends of the museum acquired a fifteenth-century dagger at public auction in Toulouse on the 29th of April.

This particular type, called a “kidney” or “ballock” dagger because the globular swellings at the base of the hilt, appeared in the fourteenth century and was very popular throughout central and northern Europe in the fifteenth century.

The dagger, 39 cm long and made of iron and wood, joins another popular type of dagger in the collection called a rondel dagger. On view in room 23.


Overlooking Sommerard street, in 2017
© Bernard Desmoulin architectures

February 2015

A room devoted to the history of the museum

150,000 € are needed to finance a room devoted to the history of the museum and its collections when the new wing opens in 2017. The Friends of the Cluny Museum have already received 112,000 €. The subscription continues...

The Cluny Museum is engaged in a project of extension and renovation, known as Cluny IV, which involves the construction of a new entrance hall, the restoration of the incomparable historical monument in which it is housed, and the museographical rearrangement of the collections.

Within this framework, the Friends of the Cluny Museum have decided to finance the creation of a new room that will recount the history of the museum, which opened 172 years ago in 1843, and the building of its collections, which number nearly 24,000 objects.

To complement the sum of 100,000 € coming from its own resources, the society needs another 50,000 € in public donations. A subscription has been opened, and 12,000€ have been received in the first months.

The contributors In France benefit from a fiscal deduction for gifts to associations (66% for an individual, 60% for business concerns). A very generous Franco-American patron has offered to augment each gift by 50%.

A gift of 300 € thus costs the donor only 100 € and is transformed into a gift of 450 € for the museum. May this incentive stimulate your generosity.

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November 2014

A new president for the Friends

Martine Tridde-Mazloum has been elected president of the Friends of the Cluny Museum. Christian Giacomotto leaves the association in good health.

At the general assembly on 9 October 2014, Christian Giacomotto expressed his wish to hand over the reins after fifteen years as president of the association of the Friends of the Cluny Museum.

Pierre Maréchal, vice-president of the Friends, gave a recap of these years of service, marked by an important increase in the membership (458 in 1999, 802 as of the first of January 2014) and a very healthy financial situation. Christian Giacomotto stressed the essential role of volunteers, which has allowed the association to devote its resources to its primary mission of supporting the Cluny Museum. He was particularly happy that during his presidency twenty-five works funded by the association had entered the museum’s collections and that patronage had been provided for the acquisition of "national treasures".

During the following board meeting on 5 November, the board elected Martine Tridde-Mazloum as president of the association. She served on the board from 1996 to 2001 and returned as vice-president in 2013.Christian Giacomotto was named honorary president.

As general delegate of the Fondation BNP-Paribas, responsible for the bank’s philanthropic works, and specialist in the areas of culture, solidarity and environment, Martine Tridde-Mazloum has developed programs supporting the understanding and appreciation of patrimony in museums, with special attention to widening their public.


Edmond Du Sommerard,
premier conservateur du musée (1843-1885)
et son véritable créateur.

October 2014

Contribute your building block to Cluny IV

The Friends of the Cluny Museum invites all its members to contribute personally to the Cluny IV renovation project.

Part of the project is the creation of a room devoted to the history of the museum and its collections, at an estimated cost of 150,000 €. The association of Friends of the Museum will provide 100,000 €. For the remaining 50,000 €, personal donations of all sizes are welcome.

This project is part of the global plan for the extension and renovation of the museum, called "Cluny IV", which will be completed in 2017. The government has assumed its part in the work, but 4 million euros in complementary funding must be provided by private and business contributions.

Details, ground plans and photos of the Cluny IV project may be found in  n° 22 of Millefleurs.

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© Bernard Desmoulin architectures

July 2014

Bernard Desmoulin will build the new reception space at the Cluny Museum

Aurélie Filippetti, minister of Culture and Communication, announced on July 9th the selection of Bernard Desmoulin as architect for the new annex to the Cluny Museum and the modernization of the adjoining spaces. Located on the Boeswillwald terrace, which borders the rue Du Sommerard, the extensions will be used for public reception and collection management. The installation of an elevator will improve access to a large part of the museum. Completion is programmed for 2017.

Five competing teams were selected in March. The jury, presided by the Director General of Patrimony, Vincent Berjot, met on July 8th and designated the winning project, noting the quality of its dialogue with the patrimonial buildings of the museum, response to the needs expressed, and its visibility and integration of the site with the surrounding environment.

Recipient of the Grand prix de Rome in 1984-1985 and the Équerre d’Argent in 2009, Bernard Desmoulin, aged 61, has frequently worked on patrimonial sites such as the Abbey of Cluny, the Grand Commun at the Château de Versailles, the museum at Sarrebourg, two stories of the Musée des Arts décoratifs, the conservatory at Clichy-la-Garenne, and the centre for contemporary art at Montreuil. He also teaches at the École d’architecture Paris-Val-de-Seine.


June 2014

Murielle Gaude-Ferragu winner of  the  Dame à la licorne Prize

For the year 2014, la Dame à la licorne Prize will honour La Reine au Moyen Âge. Le pouvoir au féminin, XIVe-XVesiècle, by Murielle Gaude-Ferragu.

Published by Tallandier, the work presents a collective portrait of French queens at the end of the Middle Ages, among whom Isabeau de Bavière and Anne de Bretagne are usually the only ones to emerge from the shadows of history, and not necessarily rightfully so.

Women were excluded from royal succession during the dynastic crises of 1316 and 1328. The queen’s position is essentially that of the "king’s consort", absented from his government, and if on rare occasions designated as regent, hemmed in by a council. She nonetheless has a role to play, and not only when she fulfills her first duty, which is providing a male heir to the kingdom.

The author demonstrates how she participates in the royal majesty: solemnly crowned, displayed during the "great entries" into cities which were inaugurated in 1389, and henceforth interred alongside the king at Saint-Denis. Meant to be a model of virtue, piety and charity, she is the "queen of the poor" as well as the "queen of the court", where one’s status must be maintained. "Mother of her people", she also plays as their intercessor with the king, like the Virgin, the queen of Heaven, with Christ. "Queen of peace", she even obtains occasional truces between princes during the Hundred Years War.

Jeanne d’Evreux, Jeanne de Bourgogne, Jeanne de Bourbon, Marie d’Anjou, Charlotte de Savoie… a distinguished list of regal ladies, indeed of secondary rank but whose real or symbolic place is re-evaluated in this clear, accessible and innovative assessment.

The prize will be awarded to the author on the 23rd of September at the Cluny Museum. A special mention will be awarded to Mme Claude Andrault-Schmitt, editor of the elegantly interwoven studies on La cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers (Geste éditions).



May 2014

Prize : the selection for 2014

Four books have been submitted to the jury for the prize La Dame à la licorne, which will be presented in the autumn of 2014 :

· La Construction en pan de bois au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance, sous la direction de Clément Alix et Frédéric Épaud, Presses universitaires François-Rabelais de Tours et Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2013

· La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers : enquêtes croisées, sous la direction de Claude Andrault-Schmitt, Niort, Geste éditions, 2013

· La Reine au Moyen Âge, le pouvoir au féminin (XIVe-XVesiècle), Murielle Gaude-Ferragu, Paris, Tallandier, 2014

· La Folie dans la littérature médiévale. Étude des représentations de la folie dans la littérature des XIIe, XIIIe et XIVe siècles, Huguette Legros, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2013.


March 2014

A new phase for Cluny 4

Five teams of architects have been invited to compete for the creation of the new reception area for the Cluny Museum:
· Bernard Desmoulin,
· K-architectures,
· Architectures Adelfo Scaranello,
· Francisco J. Mangado y asociados,
· Agence d’architecture Philippe Prost.

These professionals were selected from among 95 candidates on 17 March 2014 by a jury composed of qualified specialists and representatives from the Ministry of Culture and the City of Paris.

The five firms selected have been asked to submit projects. The jury will choose the winner in July 2014.


October 2013

Cluny 4 : it’s on the way!

At the annual meeting of the Friends of the Cluny Museum, held on the 9th of October 2013, a good news was announced: the project to extend and rearrange the museum, known as "Cluny 4", is henceforth on the ministerial agenda of patrimonial priorities.

This long-awaited enterprise includes the construction of a new building on the terrace bordering the rue Du Sommerard and will provide the museum with

- a more visible entry, near the Boulevard Saint-Michel
- an access for handicapped visitors, or those with reduced mobility, to 80% of the museum
- space for a proper chronological presentation of the works, as well as a variety of itineraries
- a better historical and cultural presentation of the Roman baths and the Hôtel de Cluny.

The construction estimate is 7 million euros. A call for architectural designs is scheduled for the end of 2013; the winning design will be announced mid 2014; work will begin in early 2015; and the opening is programmed for late 2016.


The new administration

At the 2013 annual meeting, the general state of the association was reviewed, and it was noted that the number of members continues to grow. As of 1 October 2013, the society has 791 paying members.

One third of the board was renewed, with the departure of six administrators and the arrival of five new members: Gilles Benoist, Jean-Patrice Boudet, Claude Gauvart, Marc Lelandais and Martine Tridde-Mazloum.

> For the composition of the entire board


The Dame à la licorne prize attributed to Léonard Dauphant

This year the jury attributed the Dame à la licorne prize to Léonard Dauphant, for his book Le Royaume des quatre rivières, L'espace politique français (1380-1515), published by Champ Vallon.

What was the image that fifteenth-century kings of France had of the lands under their authority? At the tail-end of the Middle Ages, when the "French nation" emerges, the limits of the realm were still those of the Treaty of Verdun in 843, sketched out by four rivers: the Escaut, Meuse, Saone, and Rhône. Within this lozenge, spaces were often counted in terms of a day's work, in the day-distances of a voyage, in the local units of measurement. Life was organised around parishes and dioceses, around seigneuries and bailiwicks.

Mixing general history with local examples (Champagne, Barrois, Burgundy…), and illustrating the complexities with fifty maps, the essay in "political geo-history" by Léonard Dauphant is a bit dense, but proposes new methodology and argumentation.

The prize, now in its seventh year, was awarded to the author by the Friends of the Cluny Museum on the 15th of October 2013.



April 2013

A beautiful Nativity painted in Avignon in the 1380s

On March 25, the Cluny Museum pre-empted an auction at Coutances in order to acquire a leaf that comes from a missal for the use of Rome and contains the opening of the office for Christmas. The initial on the page is decorated with a beautiful scene of the Nativity. The two roundels in the border of the lower margin depict an angel announcing the good tidings to two shepherds.

According to the great manuscript specialist François Avril, the localisation of this "beautiful and important work leaves no doubt"; it was made in Avignon at the end of the fourteenth century. The manuscript was probably commissioned by a member of the papal curia, which at that time was based in Avignon, on the banks of the Rhone.

The leaf is testimony to an important moment in the history of Avignon, a small episcopal city that had no particular distinction before the arrival of the papal court in 1309. But the installation of the papal curia soon stimulated artistic production in every field, especially manuscripts. Other works in the museum's collections recall this brilliant period, such as the Golden Rose.

The society of Friends of the Cluny Museum is delighted to have been able to finance this acquisition, which complements an already well endowed manuscript collection.


June 2012

Two Playing Cards

On the 19th of June 2012 the Friends of the Cluny Museum acquired at public auction two playing cards, the king of diamonds and the nine of spades.
Their format (10 x 7 cm), the quality of the paper, engraving and stenciled colouring all denote a dating in the early sixteenth century, and they may come from a known centre of production like Lyon.
The king of diamonds represented as David is unique; he wears a long cloak and holds a halberd, but not his traditional harp. The gracious and elegant style is enhanced by the fine engraving. Point cards are rare. Despite a rust spot due to humidity on the nine of spades, the two cards are in a rather fine state of conservation. They complement the museum's collection, which already has several gaming pieces but no playing cards.


A Napkin with Unicorns

Thanks to the subvention given by the Friends association, the Cluny Museum was able to pre-empt in a public sale on the 15th of June a fragment of linen and cotton cloth measuring 50 X 76 cm, decorated with the repeated motif of a tree of life flanked by two confronted unicorns with a bird lodged between their hooves.
The white textile decorated in indigo is typical of what are called "napkins (or table cloths) from Perugia" because they were first fabricated in Umbria and Tuscany in the fourteenth century, before spreading to the rest of Italy and even as far as the Rhine valley. These "napkins" served as table linens, bathing towels, as well as altar cloths, as attested by many paintings.
The Cluny Museum already has one complete Perugian napkin, acquired by the Friends in 2005. This second fragment is of interest for its iconography, rare on this type of cloth; moreover, unicorn is emblematic of the museum.


February 2012

An Architectural Drawing

The drawing of the carpentry and masonry door of the Hôtel de Cluny that joined the museum's collections on the 1st of February 2012 was underwritten by the Friends of the Cluny Museum.
The drawing on paper, measuring 98 x 66.5 cm, comes from the dispersion at auction of a part of the workshop collection of two architects, Joseph Graf (1869-1934) and his son Lucien (1900-1987). The work resembles an art-school student's exercise, probably that of Lucien, who attended the École des Beaux Arts on the quai Malaquais. In this case, it would date from the beginning of the 1920s.
The elevation in pencil, watercolour and gouache, entitled "Hôtel de Cluny", represents the small door with a grille that gives onto the rue Du Sommerard. The door is coloured in red ochre, which has turned slightly pink due to the sun, and crowned with ivy leaves that fall from the crenellation of the wall. There are also two details : on the left, the springing of an arch with the profiles of the molding and, below, a study of the lock. Everything is still in place… except the ivy.



December 2011

A chess piece representing a bishop

On November 16, the Friends of the Cluny Museum acquired at public auction in Paris a walrus ivory figurine from the collection Marquet de Vasselot. The chess piece caught the eye of the curators because of its type, style and antiquity.
The figure (somewhat worn) is that of a bishop (the bishop is now a "fou" in French), and is a descendant of the Indo-Persian elephant, transformed in passing by the aniconic Arabic tradition. The game of chess came from the Orient and was imported into Western Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries.
Its style? The frontal representation of the figure is directly inspired by episcopal seals and is quite different from the bishops of Lewis (Scandinavia, second half of the 12thcentury), the oldest pieces of this type known today.
Its date? The flattened horns of the mitre suggest a dating in the first half of the 12th century.
Northern France? England? Mosan or Rhenish? Our bishop seems in any case to come from Northwestern Europe.



September 2011

Medieval Rome

The Lady and the Unicorn Prize is attributed this year to the book by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur : "L'autre Rome. Une histoire des Romains à l'époque communale
(XIIe-XIVe siècle)", published by Tallandier.

The author is a specialist of the Italian city-states and he sketches an animated picture of a medieval Rome where century after century barons and leaders of the popolo, landowners and day labourers, merchants and bankers, cardinals and artists rub shoulders. He brings to life the market place, building sites, the social classes, and the intrigues and reversals of political life.
Contradicting the long-standing and uncomplimentary image of a city left in abandon between the grandeur of ancient Rome and the splendours of the Baroque period, the book shows that the medieval commune was a vibrant entity that affirmed its independence from the papacy with highly adaptable forms of government. There is no doubt in the author's mind that Rome was on equal footing with the great city-states in northern and central Italy.

Awarded by the Friends of the musée de Cluny, the Lady and the Unicorn Prize has been presented at the Cluny Museum.



June 2011

A late thirteenth-century statue

On June 6, 2011, the Cluny Museum pre-empted a public sale at the Hôtel Drouot in order to acquire with the help of the Friends of the Museum a somewhat damaged, but rather beautiful piece of sculpture that was previously unknown. The limestone statue is 84 cm high and lacks both the head and hands. The man wears a long tunic and a mantle that falls in rolled folds on the right and is buttoned at the left shoulder.

The pose and drapery style bespeak the Ile-de-France during the last third of the thirteenth century. The work will now be studied, cleaned and consolidated. It will be presented to the museum at the end of the year.

It will be put on display in the museum at the end of the year.


Part of the portal of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais, Paris, c. 1260-1270.

January 2011

New additions to the rooms of Gothic sculpture

Twenty-one of the works restored for the exhibition "Paris, ville rayonnante", in the Spring of 2010, have now found a permanent home among the thirteenth-century masterpieces displayed in the rooms devoted to Gothic sculpture.

Eight fragments coming from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris - mullions, parts of the rose window, a handrail, and a balustrade - are presented in room 11 with the statues of the apostles coming from this venerable edifice, built between 1246 and 1248.

Thirteen other finely sculpted pieces have been installed in room 12: capitals from Saint John Lateran (first quarter of the thirteenth century) and the Cathedral of Chartres (c. 1230), a gargoyle from Saint-Martin-des-Champs (c. 1240), a console from the cloister of Saint-Denis (c. 1250-1260), elements from the portal of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais (c. 1260-1270), and a Parisian foliate mask (1280-1290).

As the two rooms are in the midst of the tourist circuit, work was carried out on Tuesdays, when the museum is closed, between November 2010 and January 2011. At the same time, lighting was improved and information panels updated. The Friends of the Museum provided the funding for three quarters of the work.



September 2010

The 2010 book prize "La Dame à la licorne" honours Histoire du monde au XVe siècle

Awarded the 28th of September 2010 at the Cluny Museum, the book prize "La Dame à la Licorne" pays tribute this year to the ambitious collective work Histoire du monde au XVe siècle.

Edited by Patrick Boucheron and coordinated by Julien Loiseau, Pierre Monnet and Yann Potin, the book brings together sixty specialists from cultural areas that are very rarely confronted, and this is one of its main appeals. It intends to go beyond a traditional Euro-centric vision and embrace the four continents during the fifteenth century, which is treated here as one of incipient globalization.

Its political atlas presents China during the early Ming Dynasty, as well as the last indigenous empires in the Americas and the kingdoms of Africa. It highlights significant events such as the death of Tamerlane (1405), the sack of Angkor and fall of the Khmer (1431), the consecration of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence (1436), the fall of Constantinople (1453), and the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494).

The book then opens a "library" of the fifteenth century, where one finds the Memoirs of Babur Nama, the Log of Christopher Columbus, or The Prince by Machiavelli, before summing up with some larger historical questions, especially those that arise from travel, the links and general exchanges between men and cultures that mark the fifteenth century.

With this volume, the jury wished to salute a very "French" contribution to the history of globalization, previously studied almost exclusively by Anglo-Saxons, as well as a work that is timely for the understanding of the present era.

Edition Fayard - Novembre 2009 - 896 pages - 85 €



June 2010

An illuminated leaf for the museum

At the end of June 2010, the Friends of the Museum acquired in London a leaf illuminated around 1460-1470 representing the Nativity and Saint Cecilia.

About the size of an A4 sheet of paper, the leaf has been taken from the Méditations sur la Vie du Christ, attributed to Bonaventure and translated by Jean de Galopes. The Méditations are a particular kind of prayer customary in the monastic milieu, combining oral reading and "meditative rumination", which spreads to the laity at the end of the Middle Ages.

The shield in the lower margin reveals that the owner of the work is a member of the Chabannes family, which took possession of the fief of Madic in the Cantal in 1453. The specific owner may be Gilbert de Chabannes, who died in 1493.

The miniature, surrounded by a border of rinceaux and flowers, is of notable artistic interest. According to the great specialist François Avril, the somewhat dry style and brilliant contrasting colours are related to the production of painters in western central France in this period, artists such as Robinet Testard or the Master of the Psalter of Jeanne de Laval.
The leaf has now joined the collection of paintings on parchment at the Musée de Cluny.



October 2009

Saladin acclaimed

The book prize "La Dame à la Licorne" for 2009 honours the biography of Saladin by Anne-Marie Eddé, published in October 2008.

Salah al-Dîn (1137-1193) is a mythical figure in the Arabic-Muslim world. This sultan of Kurdish origin, who was the son of a provincial governor and rose to become the master of an immense empire, is justly celebrated : he forced the Crusaders to retreat, liberated Jerusalem and unified a large part of the Muslim world. But he also inspired the respect, if not the admiration, of his adversaries because of his chivalric spirit and his personal wisdom and tolerance.

Anne-Marie Eddé shows what this double reputation owes to Saladin’s undeniable military and political acumen, but also to the care that he and his circle gave to “communication”. With the intention of confirming his legitimacy, the propaganda campaign of this indefatigable warrior and champion of Islam did everything possible to portray him as the ideal sovereign. Its success continues even today both in the Arabic-Muslim world and in the West.

In distinguishing between the legend and reality, Anne-Marie Eddé, specialist of medieval Arabic history, brings to life the man, his family network, his conception of war, religion and power, and makes accessible his world and troubled times.

The “Dame à la Licorne” Prize has been officially awarded after a presentation of the book on the 14th of October, at the Musée de Cluny, in the lecture series “Un mois, un livre”.



December 2008

The frigidarium in 1845

As an enhancement to the documentation of the history of the museum and its collections, the Friends bought a painting by Pierre-Achille Poirot (27 x 33 cm) entitled “View of the great hall in the palace of the baths of Julian in Paris, now used as a museum for monuments of the Middle Ages”.

Dated 1845, this oil on paper shows the frigidarium just one year after it was opened to the public. The room was reserved for sculpture. Under the spectacular groin vault, which is 14 meters high, one can identify ancient works that are still on display today, namely the Pillar of the Navigators and the Pillar of Saint Landry. Easily identifiable are the Roman capitals, set out on the floor, and the headless statues of the apostles from the cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris, found in 1839.

P.A. Poirot (1797-1855), known for his scenes of Italian monuments, also painted in 1850 two exterior views of the Hôtel de Cluny.



October 2008

The total history of a river

In its second year, the book prize of “La Dame à la Licorne” was awarded by the Friends of the Museum to Jacques Rossiaud, professor emeritus of medieval history at the University of Lyon II, for his book : Le Rhône au Moyen Âge.

The Rhone and its tributaries flow over 850 kilometers from the glaciers of the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. The river marked the border between the Kingdom of France and the Empire. A confluence of riches, men and ideas mark its history as “an area of passage, transit, contact, fruitful meetings and triumphant history”.

The author retraces the course and evolution of the convoys of wine, salt, and wool over the centuries. He brings to life the men and women of the river and tells the story of its traditions and beliefs. For the medieval historian Jean-Claude Schmitt, “this book is a brilliant combination of all types of historical questions : it is a rare example of total history”.

Éditions Aubier, 653 pages, 24 maps, 29 €.



January 2008

Scenes of courtly love

A rare ivory casket, typical of the work produced in Paris during the years around 1300, entered the collections of the Musée de Cluny.

The ivory was acquired by Groupama, thanks to the intervention of the Friends of the Museum. Groupama, the second most important French insurance firm, took advantage of a legal provision concerning works of art of major interest to the national heritage.

The casket is unusually large (23 x 17 x 10 cm), of excellent quality, and fascinating in its iconography. The five elephant-ivory panels are carved with scenes of courtly love from various sources: The Assault of Love's Castle, Tristan and Isolde, and The Quest of the Grail.

Elements of style, details of posture and drapery, as well as the delicacy of certain faces point to the opening years of the fourteenth century. It is one of the earliest examples of its type. Comparable pieces are found only in Cracow (Cathedral Treasury), Florence (Bargello), London (British Museum and Victoria & Albert), New York (Metropolitan) and Baltimore (Walters Art Gallery). Isolated panels are to be found in other museums.