As a place to visit in Paris, the Natural History Museum beats them all.
The ground floor of the Natural History Museum, Paris.
As soon as you walk in you can do nothing but stare. Staring right back at you is a chorus of skeletons, the bare bones of the animal kingdom. Whoever set up this display had a keen scene of the theatrical. Most of the skeletons are facing the same direction, at you, and there isn’t a single preserved skin or display panel to break the march of boniness. The iron ribs in the roof have been painted suitable colours to compliment the skeletons. Colour-wise, the whole huge room and all its contents fall into a small range of creams and browns. There are giraffes, walruses, horses and whales. There are deer, rhino, snakes and turtles. Many have been there for over a hundred years and it seems, as you walk in, that they have been waiting for you.
Skull of a two-headed calf, Veau Iniodyme.
At the back of the room are some strange cases. They are the kind of freak show that museums would not put on display nowadays but have been allowed to remain in this old museum. There are skeletons of human babies, set up in creepy standing positions. There is a cyclops pig preserved in a jar and the skull of a two-headed calf.
A Green Turtle, Tortue Verte.
Many natural history museums have stuffed animals on display. Taxidermy has been used to preserve the impression of life in the corpse. In those museums we are able to examine the skin of the creature, look into its artificial eye. Perhaps a stuffed animal is better at making us understand how the creature looked in the wild but, for me, something vital has been lost in the process. It might be dignity. In this museum in Paris we see the bleached bones, the raw structure of life, and our imaginations flesh them out. Strange but true; these skeletons suggest the grandeur of life much more a room of stuffed skins would.