The Musee de Carnavalet in Paris was once home to a Marquise. Today it houses a fabulous collection of furniture, sculpture, paintings and more, dedicated to the history of Paris in a stunning Renaissance buildings, one of the oldest houses in the Marais area of Paris.
Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné was a French aristocrat who lived during the reign of Louis XIV. She was widowed at twenty-five and spent the rest of her life alone. But she was never lonely. She was extremely well connected so she had all fingers on the pulse of life in Paris. During her time Marie was considered the most beautiful woman in Paris.
The 17th century equivalent of Facebook was letters. Postal services were no faster than a horse could go in daylight hours with stops. The legacy of carefully constructed letters, handwritten with pen and ink is a moment of time preserved for the future and in France letter writing was considered an art.
From 1677 until her death in 1696, Madame de Sévigné lived in a mansion in the Marais, that is now half of Musée Carnavalet. Two adjoining buildings – Hôtel Carnavalet and Hôtel le Peletier de Saint Fargeau provide the enormous exhibition space required for the history of the city from the 3rd century BC Parisii village of Lutetia to 21st century Paris. Entering the museum is like trespassing on a film set. This really is remembrance of times past, in three dimensions. As you move from room to room you also move from time to another time.
Madame de Sévigné was a prolific letter writer. Her correspondence to family and friends survived and now they give us a vibrant, real life record of that time in history. Her eloquent letters are full of sass and scandal but they are also sprinkled with introspection and the love she had for her two children. She once walked through the rooms of this museum, sat at her desk and chose carefully, the words that have given us such insight into her world.
Letters to her daughter Madame de Grignan: Nevers,
Saturday 16 May 1676: “Here people are talking of nothing but the speeches and doings of the Brinvillers woman. Have you ever heard of being afraid of forgetting in confession that one has killed one’s father? The peccadilloes she is afraid of forgetting are remarkable. She was in love with that Sainte-Croix and wanted to marry him, so she frequently poisoned her husband to that end. Sainte-Croix, who didn’t want to have anything to do with a woman as evil as himself, gave an antidote to the wretched husband, so that having been tossed to and fro five or six times, now poisoned, now unpoisoned, he has remained alive and is now by way of interceding in favour of his better half.”
The opulence on display at the Musee de Carnavalet is luscious, the details extraordinary. Rooms of flat colours are brought to life by details in white or cream. There are several portraits of Madame and many of her belongings live on at Musée Carnavalet. But just as you couldn’t possibly take in all the treasures of the Louvre in one visit, it is impossible to do justice to the treasures of Carnavalet.
Musee Carnavalet; nearest Metro: Saint-Paul
Admission to the museum and permanent collections is free but the museum does suggest a 5 Euro “donation” would be welcome by individuals on a voluntary basis, temporary exhibitions are charged (see website for details).
UPDATE NOTE: The museum will close from October 2, 2016 for approximately 4 years renovation, due to reopen spring 2020. Check their website for details.
A writer and producer in Australia, Gai Reid says ”The next best thing to being in France, is writing about it to share my joy with others who feel the same connection.”