Sunday, October 4, 2009

12 Days in Paris: Musee des Arts et Metiers

The Musee des Arts et Metiers (60, rue Reaumur, 3e, Metro: Arts-et-Metiers) is a lesser known museum in the heart of le Marais that was created in 1794 by Father Gregoire as "a warehouse for new and useful inventions." The museum's brochure welcomes the visitor with this clever entreaty to walk "in the footsteps of inventors and adventurers of progress, in search of unique scientific and technical heritage..." The museum is home to every type of scientific and engineering marvel from the 16th century to the present. On display are actual instruments, models and recreations from Arsenius' 1567 astrolabe to a 1996 high tech fireman's helmet.

While much of the museum is "just so much technology", I was grabbed by the beautiful designs of the ancient instruments, the simplicity of old engineering models and the workmanship of the scale models and reproductions. And there is a whole room dedicated to automatons -- those glorious clockwork mechanical toys, clocks and entertaining machines of years past.

These are a couple of 18th century clocks with beautifully sculpted decoration and gilded bronze mounts.These two mechanical globes are from the 1580s! Not only are they mechanically accurate, they are works of art.The engineering tools-of-the-trade back in the 18th century were elaborate instruments from the design sense. The bottom two examples are engineering models to test the effects of lightning strikes on houses.This display was part of a whole room dedicated to the art of textiles. Here we see a few scale models of looms and above are the paper patterns used in the making of the textiles.The automaton exhibit is truly amazing. We fell in love with these mechanical devices years ago when we visited a small museum in Neuchatel, Switzerland. There they had on display numerous automatons, and actually had a theater set up where you could watch a couple of the automatons in action. Here at the Musee des Arts et Metiers, they have posted a schedule when a few of the models are demonstrated. (My photos for this part of the exhibit did not come out as well as I would have liked, but trust me, it's a really great display.)These last few items are from a display featuring items from the 1850s that are accessoire pour fantasmagorie (accessories for the phantasmagoric). Strange yet interesting. Just in time for Halloween.Tip:
1. This museum is not for everyone, but if you like to see practical items that exhibit design and embellishment as an art form, then check it out.
2. The University of Santa Clara has a wonderful collection of 19th century scientific instruments. I remember many of these, as they were scattered about the labs back when I was an undergrad at SCU. (No, we did not use them, just enjoyed looking at them.) The Santa Clara College Scientific Instrument Collection, now primarily housed in the University Archives, numbers about 200 instruments that served as demonstration apparatus for classical experiments typical of 19th Century teaching.

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