St. Augustine, Laon c. 750. Paris, BnF ms. Latin 12168

The Merovingian Times

Major exhibition on the Merovingian Times at the Musée de Cluny in Paris is a must-see for any medievalists this winter

This winter, Musée de Cluny has mounted an extremely important exhibition, telling the story of the Merovingian times, ca. 450 – 750. With generous loans from all over Europe they succeed in telling the story based on the copious amounts of new research, which have been published in the last 50 years and which have yielded a much different story from what was until recently the received wisdom.

Drinking Horn from c. 500 - 550. From: Rouen, Musee des Antiquités, Inv. 398.3 (A)
Drinking Horn from c. 500 – 550. From: Rouen, Musee des Antiquités, Inv. 398.3 (A)

By extremely generous loans from libraries and museums all over Europe the curators have succeeded in telling a story – not only of the success of the Franks, but also the vibrant milieu in which they operated, characterised by a mixture of the Roman legacy, the early medieval Catholic church, the Hiberno-Christian inspiration from Ireland and the impact of the other successor kingdoms – the Visigoths, the Burgundians and the Thuringians. But they are also able to show the distinctive character of Merovingian art and literature as well as the inspiration from the Slavs and the East.

To sum it up: the Merovingian times did not constitute an insignificant prelude to the Carolingian, but quite the opposite. On their own terms the Frankish kings succeeded in forging a civilised, albeit extremely violent world, in which shifts of politics, law, religion, art, literature and popular culture looked quite differently from what came before and after.

One source of this new knowledge is of course the many results modern medieval archaeology has yielded, not least the excavations of literally tens of thousands of burials in Merovingian cemeteries, the so-called row-graves. However, recent excavations of settlements and remains of buildings are slowly contributing to renewed wisdom concerning what happened to the cities, towns, roads, harbours, villas and settlements in the countryside, which characterised Gaul as well as Western Europe in Late Antiquity. Some remained and continued to be cared for while other elements metamorphosed into new and different ways of living and modes of thought.

Of course, the exhibition is first of all a chance in perhaps a decade to view and marvel at all the unique treasures, which have been brought together: manuscripts, which are usually kept under lock for conservation purposes, unique pieces of art, which are usually only available for examination outside their context or archaeological remains, seldom seen together with the other artistic remains.

Yes, it helps to understand the exhibition to have read widely about the history of the Franks, the Merovingian kingdoms, the long-haired kings and their exploits. But it also helps that the curators have produced a magnificent catalogue with very well-written introductions to the different perspectives, presented in the exhibition.

Don’t miss this!



St. Augustine, Laon c. 750. Paris, BnF ms. Latin 12168


Les Temps mérovingiens
Paris, Musée de Cluny
26.10.2016 – 13.02.2017


Les Temps Mérovingiens – Trois Siècles d’Art et de Culture (451 – 751)
Ed. by I Bardiès-fronty, C. Denoël and I. Villela-Petit.
Publisher: RMN (October 19, 2016)
ISBN-10: 271186328X
ISBN-13: 978-2711863280







In connection with the exhibition Gallica at Bnf have developed a dedicated website – Les Temps Mérovingiens – presenting photos and presentations of the artefacts presented at the exhibition as well as the collection of Merovingian manuscripts, which reside in the BnF and have been digitized.









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