Aspects of Grenoble: the Dauphinois Museum

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Dauphinois Museum, Musée dauphinois, Grenoble, France

A little way up the slopes of the Bastille is the 17th century Convent of St Mary.  Since 1968, this charming building has housed an eclectic collection which looks at the history of the Grenoble region, known until 1790 as Dauphiné.  At that point the region was divided and it now covers the departments of Isère, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes.

From 1906 to 1968 the museum was in a convent in the lower part of town, but they decided to move to larger premises – coinciding the relocation with the city’s hosting of the Winter Olympics.  Only 5% of the objects owned by the museum are ever on display, which is a depressing thought, but it does explain why they choose to do regular exhibitions rather than have a set of permanent displays.

I was so relieved to finally get to the museum after walking up the longest flight of stairs I’ve ever had the misfortune of being forced to climb that I didn’t take a picture of the outside of the building, but below are the cloisters, where you can sit as you try and cool down – with the help of icy cans from the drink machines inside.  Assuming you visit on a ridiculously hot day, as I did.

We started at the top of the building, and saw a longish-term exhibition on winter sports.  As a non-skier, it didn’t do much for me, but it was entertaining to see old skiing outfits and flimsy century-old skis.

More interesting, for me, was the gallery on life in the region around Grenoble.  Life was obviously bleak in the mountains and some of the daily struggles were shown through evocative displays and genuinely fascinating objects.  The very basic living conditions of people in this area until quite recently was a surprise, and an important reminder of how good we have it in the hyper-privileged society we Europeans live in today.

Shame about the weird display cages though…  A bit distracting and quite tricky to photograph around.

The temporary exhibition for our visit was a celebration of the 1969 Grenoble Winter Olympic Games.  There was a fair amount of detail about the games, which basically went over my head, but some kids seemed to be enjoying the experience as we walked around.

What did interest me was the amazing range of tat and official memorabilia that was produced – particularly fascinating was the creation of Shuss.  So – the official mascot for the Grenoble Games was supposed to be Dof.  Dof made sense as a mascot.  He was a dolphin.  The dolphin – or in French, dauphin – gave its name to the Dauphinois region of France.  But, alas, no one liked Dof.  People preferred Shuss, and his dynamic skiing style, appealed to the public and he in effect, made himself the real mascot of the games.  And, perhaps more importantly, started the trend for the Olympics to have cutesy little mascots.  And you can see why he was so inspirational.  I think.

But look at all this memorabilia!

So, because one of the floors was shut when we went, the final area we could explore was in the basement – a striking reminder of the building’s original role as a monastery.  It also has links to St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal, two fascinating figures of an era that saw a growing Protestant following and problems within the Catholic church.  They set up the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in 1610 in nearby Annecy, which was aimed at taking in those who were too sickly or too old to be accepted as nuns elsewhere.  They set up their fourth nunnery in Grenoble.

The Visitation Chapel, which is hidden at the bottom of the museum building, is an expectedly grand Baroque gem, created as part of the celebrations in 1662 for the beatification of St Francis de Sales.  

And to finish, a random Last Supper, with a thoughtful Judas at the front there.

So In Summary

Bearing in mind that it was an extremely hot day when we visited the museum, and bearing in mind that the building wasn’t (noticeably) air-conditioned, the fact that we managed to have a good time exploring the collection was quite a feat.  Because it looks at the history of the Dauphinois region, it nicely complements the other museums in Grenoble, and it is very nicely done.  And the Visitation Chapel is really worth a visit by itself.

Further Information

Entry is free to the museum.  There is a basic website you can get details from:

How To Get There

It is quite a schlep from the train station to the main heart of town.  I recommend getting trams or buses.  Of course, I was there during a heatwave, so perhaps the walk wouldn’t have been so arduous at other times, but still, here is a link to the local transport site:

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