Just outside the tall windows of the splendid new Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine stands one of France’s most famous monuments, the Eiffel Tower, while inside visitors inspect detailed casts and scale models of many of the country’s other – some of them less well-known – monuments.
With the reopening of the Musée des Monuments Français, a quirky institution exhibiting casts, copies and scale models of France’s architectural gems, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, which takes up one wing of the Palais de Chaillot at Trocadéro, is now complete. The section housing the Institut Français de l’Architecture, with its intelligently curated exhibitions on contemporary architecture, opened last March, and the Cité is also home to the Ecole de Chaillot restoration school.
What, you might ask, is the interest of looking at copies of architectural elements, sculpture, frescoes and stained glass from French churches and châteaux in a Paris museum? Plenty. First, many of the original structures have been destroyed, damaged or restored since the copies were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, it is much easier to closely study the intricate details of the works of art copied from French churches and cathedrals – with their marvelous depictions of saints and sinners, demons and angels, animals and mythical creatures – in the museum than at the actual monuments, where most are located at neck-craning heights. You can admire, for example, the brilliant composition of piled-up bodies on a trumeau from Souillac, for example, or the nasty grins on the faces of the “Vierges Folles” (Mad Virgins) from the Cathedral of Strasbourg. Third, seeing the copies of these masterpieces will certainly inspire people to visit the real thing and enhance the experience when they do.
These massive pieces are magnificently displayed in the vast, light-filled, high-ceiled spaces of the newly renovated wing of the Palais Chaillot. Room after room is filled with tympanums, portals, columns, individual sculptures and scale models. Many return visits are required to do justice to these pieces, which are given context and background information through photos, maps and short descriptions (translated into English and Spanish), as well as informative and interesting interactive videos (showing, for example, what a statue might have looked like when painted in its original gaudy colors). For those who want to delve deeper, the Cité’s archives (by appointment only) and library are open to the public.
Another gallery presents a broad overview of modern and contemporary architecture through visitor-friendly models and even a reconstruction of a real apartment designed by Le Corbusier for the Cité Radieuse in Marseille in 1952, with its built-in furniture and cupboards, which visitors are free to wander through.
Bravo to the people behind this highly successful venture in making architecture, both old and new, accessible and interesting to the public.
Reader Paul Twohig writes: “Thanks for the update. We’ve been waiting for years for this museum to reopen, and earlier updates from other sources were confusing. For one thing, we got the idea the museum would be relocated. You effectively made the case for why people would want to see casts of architectural sections and other reproductions. This will be a priority on our next trip.”