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Where to see tapestries in Paris

A tribute to tapestries – two Paris museums are offering fascinating expositions that highlight this beautiful art form.

Musee de Cluny

After being closed for four months, the Musee National Cluny reopens on July 14 and presents “Magiques Licornes.” The exposition examines the depiction of unicorns through the centuries, in manuscripts, sculpture, tapestries, photographs and videos. Central to the exposition is the series of 16th-century tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn. Like so many others, I have sat mesmerized before these six tapestries. Referred to as the Mona Lisa of tapestries, this medieval lady seated in a garden has fascinated writers, artists and historians and the meaning of the cycle has been widely debated – Who is this beautiful woman? Who created them? What do the allegories mean—a meditation on earthly pleasures?

The six tapestries were discovered in 1841 at the chateau de Boussac in Creuse, long neglected and in moldering condition, gnawed upon by rats. The Cluny acquired them in 1882 and embarked on extensive restorations.  Inspired by the tapestries, George Sand set her first novel, Jeanne, at the chateau. One of Rainer Maria Rilke’s sonnets was inspired by seeing the tapestries. More recently, copies of the tapestries can be seen hanging on the common room walls of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter movies. As curator Elisabeth Taburet-Delahaye told Le Pariesien newspaper: “Its status as a masterpiece is a result of the subtle chemistry between its intrinsic qualities and its complex history.”

Galerie des Gobelins

After you’ve visited the lady and her unicorn, take a pleasant 25-minute walk (or hop the #27 bus) to the Galerie des Gobelins. It was here that my narrow appreciation of tapestries exploded into amazed admiration. The current special exposition “Au Fil du Siècle, Chefs-d’Oeuvre d la Tapisserie 1918-2018” aims to show the past decade’s artistic, political, and philosophical upheavals through 45 works, including tapestries, cartoons, carpets, and furniture.

From WWI tributes for fallen heroes, to homages of the French countryside, to depictions of 1920s nightlife, to works by Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, and Zao Wou-Ki, the exposition succeeds in capturing the diverse spirit of the age and showcasing the beauty of tapestries.

The Musée de Cluny, 6 Place Paul Painlevé, 75005: musee-moyenage.fr  “Magique Licorne”: 14 July 2018-25 February 2019

La Galerie des Gobelins, 42 Avenue des Gobelins, 75013 Paris: mobiliernational.culture.gouv.fr  “Au Fil du Siècle”: until 23 September 2018.

If you love tapestries – you’ll love Aubusson Tapestry Museum

Martha McCormick is a writer who first set foot in France at age 17 where she experienced an epiphany perhaps familiar to many people: This is what life is meant to be!

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