Thursday, January 20, 2011

House 100 years later

Morbid Anatomy beat me to it (not that we are in competition, but blogger Joanna Ebenstein and I have many interests in common). The news yesterday was the opening of a life-size time capsule in France that dates back more than a century. The period piece in question is a mansion in Moulins, France, owned by Louis Mantin (1855-1905). La Maison Mantin (as it appeared in 1910, 1st image, and as it appears today, 2nd and 3rd images)
was closed up and fell into disrepair when the owner died, but Mantin directed that it be made a museum in 2005. After $47 million in renovations, the mansion has now opened to the public after 106 years. Visitors are immersed in the life of a cultured gentleman of his day, just as Mantin wished. All the amenities are intact - rich fin-de-siecle furnishings, electricity, and a flushing toilet - and all the collections on display - Egyptian relics, Neolithic oil-lamps, and prehistoric flints; medieval locks, Masonic paraphernalia, mounted birds, and other curios. The result is a remarkable time-capsule, says the BBC about what was his personal museum.

Born in Moulins in 1851, Louis Mantin was a civil servant, but at the age of 42 inherited a fortune from his father and thereafter enjoyed a life pursuing the arts and sciences. He built his mansion in his hometown, on the site of a former regal Bourbon palace. Mantin and imported tapestries, paintings, and porcelain, and commissioned sculptures and wood-carvings. Knowing that his death was approaching, Mantin only had a few years to indulge his aesthetic fantasies. To save his collections and indulge is obsession with death and the passage of time, he put his instructions in his will. Assistant curator A bathroom inside Maison Mantin Maud Leyoudec explains, "A bachelor with no children....It was his way of becoming eternal." Mantin's great-niece Isabelle de Chavagnac, who would otherwise have inherited the property, observes, "The house was gradually forgotten by the world. But not by the people of Moulins. It is odd how the collective memory of a place never dies."

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