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History of the Cluny Museum of Art and Archaeology

Salle du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny

Located to the north of Cluny's abbey church, the Museum of Art and Archaeology was originally the palace of Cluny's 42nd abbot, Jean de Bourbon!

Jean de Bourbon

A man of taste

The 42nd abbot of Cluny, Jean de Bourbon, chose this site to build his residence. A virgin site on the hill, northeast of the monastery's double entrance gate. Jean de Bourbon, born in 1413, was the bastard son of Duke Jean I de Bourbon. Bishop of Le Puy from 1443, he was recommended by King Charles VII of France to the monks of Cluny, who unanimously chose him as abbot in 1456. He succeeded Eudes de la Perrière and retained his bishopric at the same time.

He left behind the memory of a simple, cultured and pious man. Brought up in Avignon in an environment where artists and writers played an important role, he displayed enlightened taste. While his 29-year abbatiate was marked by the fight against the decadence of the Cluny order, it was also marked by his efforts to embellish the abbey.

In Cluny itself, he built his own private chapel and repaired the church's bells and side vaults. He enriched the treasury with numerous pieces of silverware and tapestries, and provided the monks with a large number of manuscripts and printed works, which can be found in the palace's ancient library.

Portes d'honneur de l'abbaye de Cluny
Portes d'honneur de l'abbaye de Cluny

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

Building the Palace

Construction of the abbot's palace

The precise date of construction of Jean de Bourbon 's palace is not known. It is thought to have been built between 1456, the date of the abbot's election, and 1485, the date of his death. Deviating from the precepts of the Rule of Saint Benedict, the building was constructed away from the cloister, yet within the abbey walls.

The former abbey dwelling was difficult to access, and visits from high dignitaries and foreign guests disturbed the silence that was supposed to reign in the cloister.

Jean de Bourbon compensated the dean of the monastery for a vacant plot of land near the abbey entrance and in front of the monastery's largest cross. There, he laid the foundations for a new abbey dwelling with comfortable and sumptuous fittings, and combined it with an orchard on the east side, planted with vines and fruit trees of various species.

Salle du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny
Salle du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny

© Centre des monuments nationaux

Gothic architecture

From the outset, this large main building, now a listed monument, was enhanced by a cloister to the north. In the 16th century, it became part of a complex residential complex, linked by suspended galleries to the palace built by Jean de Bourbon's successor, the Palais Jacques d'Amboise (now the Hôtel de Ville), and to that of Claude de Guise, now located above the abbey's entrance.

The Gothic style of the Palais Jean de Bourbon corresponds to that of 15th-century stately homes. To the east, a tower houses the grand spiral staircase. The spiral staircase leads to all floors, ending in a small round room with a panoramic view . The main feature of the exterior façade is the noble floor, with its four high mullioned windows and double transoms. The two figures adorning the left windows are similar to the prophet figures on the consoles of the abbey's Chapelle Jean de Bourbon.

The entrance door is in the classical style, and the interior still features three fireplaces whose decor has been restored. The coat of arms of the town of Cluny, the abbey of Cluny and the abbot Jean de Bourbon can all be seen.

Façade du Palais Jean de Bourbon (actuel musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny )
Façade du Palais Jean de Bourbon (actuel musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny)

© Patrick Tourneboeuf / Centre des monuments nationaux

the creation of the museum of art and archaeology

Safeguarding the abbey's remains

The history of the Musée d'Art et d'Archéologie, its choice of building and the development of its collections, is closely linked to the destruction of the abbey church. Having become national property in 1789, the Palais Jean de Bourbon was spared the looting that took place when the abbey was dismantled. It was purchased by a private individual, Jean-Baptiste Constance Meunier, on January 20, 1797.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Ochier, a medical doctor, inherited the abbey palace and decided to install his collections there. On his death in 1864, Dr. Ochier's widow donated it to the town of Cluny for the creation of a museum.

Auguste Pécoul was appointed curator of the future museum. He considerably increased the museum's collections through donations. The details of how the old collections were built up are not well known. It would seem, however, that it was the Cluny community's attachment to their heritage that enabled part of the abbey's remains to be saved.

The museum wasinaugurated on August 15, 1866. Since then, the museum has undergone many changes, and its collections have been enriched by discoveries made during various archaeological digs in the abbey and construction sites in the town. The Musée d'art et d'archéologie is a municipal museum, open to the public as part of a partnership between the town of Cluny and the Centre des monuments nationaux. All the works on display can be found on the Joconde database, the portal to French museum collections.

Plan de la ville avec implantation de l'abbaye et du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny
Plan de la ville de Cluny

© Centre des monuments nationaux

An essential collection

Linked to Cluny Abbey

Discover the splendor of the sculpted decorations that adorned the great 12th-century abbey church (Cluny III) and the medieval town. Three floors of the Palais Jean de Bourbon are open to the public. The top floor is devoted to storage. The two basement rooms are devoted to sculptures and architectural fragments from Cluny's great Romanesque abbey church, including elements of the great portal, fragments of friezes, keystones and finely sculpted capitals.

The history of the Cluny civilization began in 910. During the Carolingian era, Charlemagne, heir to the Roman Empire, wanted to build a powerful church. His son, Louis the Pious, founded an abbey directly under the protection of Rome. Its abbot acted as mediator between the political powers and the Pope. Cluny is the mother house of 1,400 dependencies. He enforced unity of observance in the monasteries according to the rule of Saint Benedict. This rule sets out the life of monks in 75 chapters. Sold as national property in 1798, the abbey was dismantled, and its church almost destroyed.

Mandorle de l'agneau Pascal de l'abbaye de Cluny
Mandorle de l'agneau Pascal de l'abbaye de Cluny

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

Linked to the medieval monastic village

The rooms on the second floor feature pieces chosen for their beauty and representativeness from Cluny's rich collection of sculptures of medieval houses. The history of the village provides an insight into the great development of Cluny house decoration from the 12th to the 14th century.

The first mention of the village dates back to 994, and appears at the Council of Anse, organized by the archbishop of Lyon. The council confirmed Cluny' s immunity, prohibiting the lords from levying taxes or fighting on the lands and in the town of Cluny, which from the outset had been an integral part of the abbey' s domain.

From an economic point of view, the monastic community became increasingly powerful. It employed lay servants who lived in the town with their families. By the end of the 11th century, the abbey's material needs were growing and trade was expanding . on its doorstep.

The appearance of the Cluny denarius, minted on site, bears witness to this intense activity. By 1109, the town had reached its apogee. Rich and poor lived side by side. Merchants, soldiers, ecclesiastics, clothiers, bakers, barbers, millers, coopers, carpenters, tile-makers, butchers, tanners, weavers... all lived here.

Their houses range from two to four storeys. On the first floor, a large, often ogival, bay opens onto the store or workshop. To the right, a small door leads to the upper apartment. The upper floor is lit by a series of bays interrupted by small columns and pilasters, known as clerestory.

Maquette du bourg monastique, XIIe siècle
Maquette du bourg monastique, XIIe siècle

© Centre des monuments nationaux

The old library

Finally, the last room on the first floor features an antique wooden library housing a collection of 4,000 volumes, including some 1,800 works originating from the abbey. The rest come from the municipal library's old stock, private donations and 19th-century exchanges between the town and the state.

Today, a reading machine allows visitors to browse the pages of these famous works, whose calligraphy has remained intact.

La bibliothèque ancienne du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny

© Centre des monuments nationaux

The subject file

The Cluny Museum of Art and Archaeology

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Salle du musée d'art et d'archéologie de Cluny