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Rubbing The Belly Of A Buddha

There are 143 museums in Paris, according to Paris’ newest
entertainment guide, Zurban ( That
explains only partly why after all the years of living here
I hadn’t had the pleasure of exploring the Musee Guimet
until just yesterday. There is another reason . . . the
museum spent the last several years in massive renovation.

Collector Emile Guimet’s brainchild was opened in 1899, a
museum devoted to the religions of ancient Egypt, classical
antiquity, and Asian civilizations. Throughout the 1920s
and 1930s, under the administrative control of the French
Museums Directorate, the museum obtained large collections
from major expeditions including a French archaeological
delegation to Afghanistan. From 1945, the French national
collections underwent a massive reorganization and its
Egyptian collections were transferred to the Louvre, and in
return, Le Musee Guimet received the Louvre’s Asian

In 1938, the museum completed its first renovation, roofing
over the central courtyard to house extensive collections
from Cambodia and Indian sculptures. Years later, when the
general renovation of the Louvre was in its final phases,
Guimet curators convinced the Ministry of Culture that the
museum deserved a refurbishment of its own. In 1992,
architects Henri and Bruno Gaudin won the competition to
redesign the space adding more than 2,500 square meters to
floor space. Together with the team of curators, priority
was given to natural lighting and to the creation of open
perspectives. The work was completed in 1999 and on January
15, 2001, was reopened to the public.

Yesterday, "the public" (including me) formed a long line
outside at Place Iena to slowly and cautiously enter via a
security check. The lobby on the main level is not
overwhelmingly impressive, as is the Louvre’s Pyramid, but
is quiet, elegant and subtly powerful. In the distance, you
are drawn to a naturally lit space of varying size Asian
sculptures set on individual pedestals of stone. As I moved
from object to object, room to room, civilization to
civilization, I was intrigued by both the similarities and
the differences of each culture’s artistic expression.

I admit to no prior knowledge of Asian cultures or the
teachings of Buddha. And of course, Buddha abounds at Le
Musee Guimet. Not the big-bellied, round-faced Buddha that
initially comes to mind, but Buddhas of many visages, of
many body-shapes, of many expressions. I found Buddha to be
feminine and tranquil. I fell in love with his curvaceous
lips and moon-shaped brows, broad shoulders and passive

From the more practical side of life, ceramics and
porcelains from the Ming and the Ching dynasties fill
several rooms. Carved jades, apothecary boxes with inlaid
mother-of-pearl and earthenware for everyday use are
esthetically displayed so that you can view them from all
angles. A carved ivory "pavilion" the size of a large
dollhouse made a lasting impression.

Allow several hours to explore the collection and the
museum, including the "librairie/boutique" of books and
postcards and gifts. There is an audio guide should you
wish to learn more in detail. Open every day except
Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and all summer long. Entry is 4
euro the first Sunday of the month and normally 5,50 euro.
Under 18 is admitted free.

Musee National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet
6 Place d’Iena 75116 Paris
Metro Iena
Web site:
A la prochaine fois . . .

email: mailto:[email protected]


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