Tuesday 26 June 2012

A Temple to Science

Housed in the old priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, the Musée des Arts et Métiers contains a wonderful collection what can only be described as 'stuff'. Scientific instruments rub shoulders with Nicolas Cugnot's steam propelled 3 wheel gun carriage - believed to be the first road going locomotive. Ancient aircraft are hung as if they were Airfix models in a young boys bedroom, from the vaulted and domed ceilings, whilst murals adorn the walls. Primitive motorcycles and early motor cars abound, there's even Focault's Pendulum. It's the Science Museum but without quite the emphasis on entertainment. The building naturally has a sepulchral quality completely in keeping with its exhibits which have an 'oily rag' quality and are reassuringly unrestored. Objects here are viewed with reverence and one feels should never (in the ghastly preference of modern historians be spoken of in the present tense - why do they do that? - example..."Napoleon is virtually within the gates of Moscow"...can't stand it, I suppose they think it makes all sound hip and relevant...which it is without resorting to time-shifting). For a museum that has been open since the 18th century it has moved with the times but not so much that that its style triumphs over substance - a good balance I feel. It's well worth taking in if you're 'en Paris' for a couple of days.