In this monthly series, we take a look around France’s many beautiful historical buildings under the care of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. This month, the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris which is presenting an exclusive exhibition on Medieval art, straight from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Situated in the heart of Paris, the Hôtel de la Marine stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. With its opulent façade illuminating place de la Concorde and fascinating exhibits, this iconic landmark is often overlooked but should definitely make the cut on your bucketlist for your next trip to Paris.
From the King’s furniture to the Navy headquarters
Originally built as one of two palaces to be placed at either end of the Place Louis XV (the current place de la Concorde), the grandiose building held the royal furniture as soon as the works on the square were done in 1765. For the next 25 years, it not only housed the royal family’s collection of furniture but also the steward in charge who oversaw the furniture in all royal dwellings, from Versailles to Fontainebleau.
The institution – la Garde-Meuble Royal – was in charge of the choice, purchase and maintenance of the king’s furniture, ranging from the bed to the chairs. It was also in charge of the conservation of the royal collections of arms and armour, fabrics and hangings, vases of hard stones, bronzes and finally the Crown diamonds, but also cooking utensils and linens!
During the Revolution, the building was seen as a symbol of the royal family’s opulence. In fact, the story goes that on July 13th 1789, the revolutionaries plundered the armoury and, the next day, opened fire on the Bastille using silver-adorned canons gifted to Louis XIV by the king of Siam! After the Crown jewels were stolen in 1792 and the rest of the artifacts were burned or sold off at auctions, the fate of the building was sealed.
The Navy began moving in as early as 1789, when Louis XVI decided to move the entire court back to Paris. The institution gradually took over the entire building which was appropriately renamed Hôtel de la Marine. The French Navy was housed there for over two centuries and only left in 2015!
It was then placed in the care of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and underwent extensive renovations to restore it to its former glory and reopen as a museum.
Its architecture, but also its painted decorations, furniture and works of art from the 18th and 19th centuries showcase the close links between decorative art, craftsmanship, French excellence and the expression of power.
Since 2017, several restoration campaigns have brought to light remarkable period elements, including the original decorations of the steward’s apartments from the end of the 18th century.
One of the highlights of the museum is the stunning Salon des Amiraux, with its gilded ceiling, intricate woodwork, and magnificent chandeliers. You can explore the apartments, guided by the voice of ‘Le Confident’ who takes visitors on an immersive tour, ending with the ceremonial salons and a unique view of Paris from the loggia. Guided tours, kid’s activities and workshops are also available.
Within the prestigious Al-Thani Collection, the Hôtel de la Marine has just opened an exclusive exhibition on medieval art. Running until October 22, “Medieval Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum: when the English spoke French” illustrates the complex and interdependent relationship between England and continental Europe throughout of the Middle Ages through a collection of sculptures, enameled glass, ivories, stained glass, textiles, ceramics, illuminated manuscripts, goldsmithery and jewellery.
Showcasing extraordinary works made in England, France, Italy and beyond, this is the first time over 70 of these objects are making an appearance in France. The exhibition brings to light the rich artistic culture that flourished in what was a truly international era.
Among the most notable works in the Victoria and Albert Museum are the Gloucester Candlestick, the Becket Casket, the Clare Chasuble and a goblet, known as The Luck of Edenhall.
For more information, visit hotel-de-la-marine.paris
Lead photo credit : Hôtel de la Marine, on place de la Concorde in Paris © J-P. Delagarde / Centre des Monuments Nationaux
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