If tapestries intrigue you, this is the place to come. We're not talking little 3'x5' tapestries here, folks. We're talking tapestries that would carpet a suburban front yard. Under-appreciated as an art form, tapestries can rival paintings in subtlety and expressiveness. Perhaps it's their functionality that leads people to shrug. Provence can be bitterly cold in the winter, and tapestries have been expensive insulation since the Middle Ages in all those drafty old castles and palaces. But of course, if you could afford a palace and a tapestry to hold a little heat in it, you expected some decorative value from it as well.
It's easy not to notice the size of these works of art because the museum is located in a former archbishop's palace, and in the cavernous rooms in which the tapestries are displayed, they don't look all that large. Pace them off and you'll be surprised! The tapestries here are 17th and 18th century products. There is a 1689 "Grotesque" series, but the real draw here is the only Don Quixote series in the world, made in 1735. You can follow the course of the gaunt cavalier's career as he rides his decrepit charger, Rosinante, through a gorgeously detailed countryside, with plump Sancho Panza following on his donkey. Perhaps due to their age (nearly 300 years!), the lighter colors of the tapestries have a silvery sheen, but the maroons and blues remain vivid after all this time.
There is also a gallery used for temporary exhibits. During my visit, this was inexplicably devoted to some rather experimental photography, which somehow seemed quite out of keeping with the historic tapestries. Who knows what you'll find when you visit?
The museum is a little tricky to find. Starting facing the entrance of Cathédrale St.-Sauveur, turn into the little square to the right of the church (that's Place des Martyrs de la Résistance) and walk down to the end. The museum entrance is on your left through the archway at the end of the square.
January 9, 2004
From journal Aixploring Aixquisite Aix-en-Provence