In the early 2000s, the MuCEM gradually expanded the scope of its inquiries, thanks to a major deposit of European ethnographic collections from the Museum of Man (National Museum of Natural History). Since then, it has been collecting physical testimonials to the lives of the societies that once populated and still continue to populate Europe, from Portugal to Russia, as well as the shores of the Mediterranean. Continuing its study of rural and urban cultures and their transformation, it has also made room for contemporary art as revelatory of human society today.
Harvest bouquet (2013) by Benedykt Kolbuszewski, Helena Kolbuszewska, Teresa Sopyło, Diana Węgrzyn, Ewa Żuk, Elżbieta KolbuszewskaMucem
The harvest bouquets concocted by harvesters are more or less complex assemblies of ears of wheat. Traditionally, these were exhibited at church during the harvest mass or were offered to the lady of the house who prepared the meal for the harvesters that closed out that laborious work. Sometimes attached to barn doors, the bouquet could serve as a protective symbol for the harvest.
Sfogliatrice, pasta maker (1961) by Imperia, manufacturerMucem
Sfogliatrice, pasta maker
1961, Imperia, manufacturer
This instrument flattens pasta dough to make into tagliatelli (2 mm), fettucini (6.5 mm) or tagliolini. The device, which is still commonly used today, is a testimonial to the traditionally domestic production of wheat pasta in Italy.
Bread in the shape of a mermaid (1996/2000)Mucem
Bread in the shape of a mermaid
1996 - 2000
The Mucem’s collections are rich in objects related to the processing chain that transforms wheat into bread and in the utensils needed at each stage in its preparation, from kneading the dough to baking it to eating it. This lovely mermaid was acquired in 2004, along with more than 1,000 other breads, from a collector who had spent 15 years travelling across Europe in search of figurative shaped breads.
Parade wagon (XIXe siècle)Mucem
Polychrome wood wagons have been a major feature in popular Sicilian art, as well as a symbol of the island’s identity, from the 19th century to the present day.
This beautiful example, for example, is decorated on all sides with motifs depicting the battle between the Moors and the Christians. The repertory of the portrayed scenes refers to the great writings of the Italian Renaissance: Jerusalem Delivered by Tasso, The Frenzy of Orlando by Ariosto and Orlando in Love by Boiardo.
Sarakatsani hut (2013)Mucem
This hut was created specially for the MuCEM by the Fraternity of Epirotes Sarakatsani. Inside, they have placed the everyday objects of the life of a family of shepherds: bed, clothing, hearth and cooking utensils, an icon to perform their devotions, and so on.
Chest of drawers (2e moitié du XIXe siècle)Mucem
Chest of drawers
Latter half of the 19th century
This Syrian chest of drawers is an example of the mutual influences that East and West exert on each other. Its decoration and materials are part of the long tradition in Syrian craftsmanship of building wood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory. Here, the plant motifs stand out against a background of geometric shapes. The bright iridescence of the ivory and mother-of-pearl provide a contrast with the gentle matte of the wood.
Its curved form is more inspired by European secretaires. In fact, the drawers only open when the side hinges are moved. In other words, this chest of drawers was undoubtedly designed for Europe, where a tasted for the Orient was all the rage in the 19th century.
Shiite portable altar (1re moitié du XXe siècle)Mucem
Shiite portable altar
First half of the 20th century
This private portable altar opens like a box, within which two painted images face one another. An object of piety typical of the late 19th century, it was reserved for private use in the Iranian popular tradition, in which images play a key role in prayer and individual meditation.
On the left, Mohammed is shown giving the Quran to Ali. In the Shiite faith, the prophecy was not completed by Mohammed but instead extended to Ali, his cousin and son-in-law whose two sons, Hassan and Hussein, respectively became the second and third imams after him.
The figures’ faces are haloed and veiled, not out of modesty but because a believer’s gaze could not bear the radiance emanating from the imams, according to Shiite theology.
Bronze medal from the Athens Olympics (1906) by Jules-Clément Chaplain, engraverMucem
Bronze medal from the Athens Olympics
1906, Jules-Clément Chaplain
The iconography on both sides of the medal – the Acropolis in Athens on one side and Zeus on the other – refers to the ancient games and establishes a connection between Modern Greece and Ancient Greece in a context of consolidation of national awareness in the face of the Ottoman Empire.
Nativity icon (XIXe siècle)Mucem
This icon is a symbol of devotion in the Melchite faith. You can see the Nativity, where Baby Jesus is bathed in the light of the star shooting out of the Eye of God, a symbol that appeared in the 17th century.
Baby Jesus is bathed in the light of the star shooting out of the Eye of God, a symbol that appeared in the 17th century.
This icon bears the characteristic marks of the Jerusalem School in the 19th century: a pastel colour palette, simple style, preference for decorations and edges with colourful stripes.
Silk panel: hunting scene (2000/2010) by Studio of the Mezannar BrothersMucem
Silk panel: hunting scene
2000 - 2010
This silk panel is part of a broader set of objects and documents that represents the production chain of silk brocade, the jewel of Syrian manufacturing. The set was collected in Damas, Alep and Homs, Syria, between 2001 and 2010.
Tile with the Three Hierarchs (1718/1719)Mucem
Tile with the Three Hierarchs
1718 - 1719
Its decoration depicts the Three Hierarchs of Byzantine Christianity, but replacing Gregory of Nazianzus with Gregory the Illuminator, who converted Armenia, seated between St. Basil of Caesarea and St. John Chrysostom.
King Tiridates had Gregory tortured when he refused to make sacrifices to pagan idols. At the same time, he fell in love with St. Hripsime, shown here at the feet of the saint. But after she refused him, the king had her tortureHeaven then punished him by turning him into a boar, which is why he is portrayed here with the head of that animal.d in turn.
Khlal fibula (1900/1950)Mucem
1900 - 1950
This fibula is a good example of the influence of Jewish silversmiths in North Africa.
Omega fibulas like this one were used to connect the two parts of traditional Tunisian garb, the draped robe and the mantle. They were worn by the women of the nomadic tribes of the south of the country, in the region around Medenine and Tataouine.
Kabylian Jar (Vers 1910-1960)Mucem
This jar, like all the moulded Berber pottery throughout North Africa, was made from local earth, collected in Jijel, then moulded by hand and by scraper.
This jar belongs to a collection accumulated over the years by a French doctor working in and around Jijel, where he would regularly receive thanks in the form of pottery from women whose babies he delivered, and a city planning architect who appreciated the physical and aesthetic qualities of the pottery of Kabylia.
Funerary model of cows and drovers (Moyen Empire, XXe siècle avant J.-C.)Mucem
Funerary model of cows and drovers
Here, the layer of stucco covering the wooden figurines allowed the characteristic forms of the cattle (like their large necks, their well-defined posteriors and the shape of their hooves) to be moulded with great attention to detail, whilst the colours and the addition of real fabric loincloths – if genuine – reinforced the desired authenticity.
Through the magic of imagery, the models would replace the reality of this world in the hereafter. In this case, the purpose of the two cows, safely protected by their herdsmen, is to guarantee all the benefits of cattle farming to the deceased for all eternity: milk, meat, leather, horn and social prestige.
Mezuzah amulet (XIXe-XXe siècle)Mucem
This amulet presents a stylized floral design containing a depiction of the dishware of the Temple of Jerusalem and the seven-armed candelabrum (menorah in Hebrew) that was made especially for the Temple.
Moroccan rattle (1re moitié du 20e siècle)Mucem
First half of the 20th century
This rattle, used by Moroccan Jews, includes a branch of coral which was already found on rattles in portraits of children of the Flemish aristocracy as early as the 17th century. This protuberance allows little ones to teethe, all the while providing them with magical protection.
Schoolboy’s tablet with verse from the Quran (1re moitié du XXe siècle)Mucem
Schoolboy’s tablet with verse from the Quran
First half of the 20th century
Until the early 20th century, the Quranic tablet was the primary tool for pupils at North African primary schools. The teacher, or muallim, taught Arabic writing to young boys – girls did not go to school. He would make them recite verses of the Quran a certain number of times, chanting them in rhyme, until the pupils knew them by heart.
© Mucem 2017
This exhibition has been created by Mucem curators. Explore the Mucem’s collections