Museum Life: On the Road

Museum Life is on the road this month and thought I would share with you a few of my museum-related meanderings throughout Western Germany and Eastern France, some of which are generally off the usual, big-city museum destination path for tourists in these two countries.

First is a wonderful and imaginatively displayed archeological collection in Freiburg, housed in a mid-19th century Gothic revival mansion, the Colombischlössle Archeological Museum.


Although all museum labels and brochure guides were in German and therefore largely unknowable to me (unfortunately my knowledge of the German language is limited to a few salutations and food items), the clear and concise layout and display of items made the overall narrative easy to follow for a non-speaker/reader.

Included in the artifacts that help to tell the stories of the life and times of ancient and medieval peoples of the area now known as Freiburg are textiles and other items of adornment and grooming. Throughout the museum, various pieces were mounted on simplified illustrations or silhouettes of human bodies, depending upon the context, making the placement and use of the fragment or complete object immediately evident.


In addition to display in the vitrines, reproductions of objects were often available for visitors to touch or handle (such as chain mail, seen below).


When a garment was not extant, the sense of touch was again utilized to evoke a sense of the garments and what they may have felt like worn against the skin.


Ancient belts “completed” with acrylic mounts.


One of the most interesting objects (my apologies for the somewhat blurry photo) is a reproduction of a prop arrow, used in theatrical productions to simulate an arrow piercing the body, worn with the band encircling the side of the torso turned away from the audience.


In Strasbourg, one of the most arresting paintings at the Musée des Beaux Arts at the Palais Rohan was La Belle Strasbourgeoise (1703) by prolific portrait painter Nicolas de Largillière. The undeniable focal point of the portrait is the young woman’s extraordinary headgear. Although the accompanying label states that the sitter is wearing dress typical for aristocratic young women in the city between 1688 and 1730, it also notes the peculiarity of this particular hat. A brief biography of de Largillière notes that he was the son of a hat merchant; one cannot help but wonder if he was attracted to paint the portrait as it appears not only due to the station and beauty of the sitter but also because of the attraction to her fantastical headgear.


The masterful detailed rendering of the delicate lace sleeves is quite extraordinary:


Looking at this dramatic hat, I couldn’t help but recall the shape of Christian Dior’s classic sloped brim hat from the New Look collection, on a more modest scale, of course (seen here on the far right at the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2013 exhibition, Dior and Yamamoto: The New Look).


Finally, the city of Nancy is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture and art, as practiced by the artists of L’École de Nancy. One place I was very eager to visit was the Musée de l’École de Nancy, which is the former residence of École de Nancy patron and collector, Jean-Baptiste Eugène Corbin. Like William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, this group of Art Nouveau practitioners in Nancy believed in creating a complete environment and dissolving the hierarchies between fine arts and decorative art, and learning the skills and production of different media from furniture to glassware to ceramics to textiles. Art Nouveau style was all curves and highly dramatic, sinuous sensuality—very few if any straight lines to be seen here–inspired directly from the flora and fauna of the natural world. Visitors are free to wander the rooms of the first two stories, with some seeming to remain largely unchanged from the time of installation, while others were most likely reconfigured at a later date.

Salle à manger Musée de l’École de Nancy

Salle à manger
Musée de l’École de Nancy

Textile-based pieces were integral to the vision of this group of artists, and there were several on view at the Musée de l’École de Nancy, including two impressive wall hangings.

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

A standing embroidery frame (ca. 1902) was designed by Emile André, which held an embroidery of leaves created by his wife (there was no full name on the label, only “Mme André” referenced) after a design found in Die Quelle.


Gorgeous embroidered textiles incorporated into furniture upholstery were, in my opinion, most beautifully realized in the Salon aux Ombelles (1901) by Camille Gauthier and Auguste Poinsignon, with a chair, winged bench, and a settee displaying the theme (les ombelles, or umbels, were a recurring motif throughout the house).



Inspiration was close at hand with the lovely two-tiered gardens outside, completely restored in 1998.


Overall, this museum was an immersive and highly enjoyable experience.

All photos provided by the author.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.