A trip to Bayeux or its surroundings? Discover the Baron Gérard Museum (MAHB), a reference in Normandy for art and history. This museum, housed in a former episcopal palace, is a must if you are passing through this famous medieval city at the gates of the D-Day landing beaches.
It houses several collections from prehistory to the 20th century with a chronological tour in 14 stages.
In this article, we give you all our practical tips to organize your visit to this instructive and fascinating museum, and especially to make the most of your time there!
This review is completely independent, we visited anonymously and paid our admission in full.
Why visit the Baron Gérard Museum in Bayeux?
Is MAHB worth a visit?
Without a doubt, this was one of our favorite places in Bayeux! The Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History is located in the former Palace of the Bishops of the city. In the heart of Old Bayeux, this museum offers a very high quality scenography.
- The chronological tour mixes art and history, from prehistory with the appearance of the first human beings, to the contemporary period.
- The architecture of the episcopal palace where the museum is located is worth a visit.
- For art lovers, several kinds of ancient works and objects are exposed in this museum: paintings, ceramics, relics, fabrics…
Why is the Baron Gérard Museum famous?
Considered as a reference art place in the region, at the Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History (MAHB) in Bayeux you will be amazed by:
- nearly 600 works of art,
- a thousand pieces of porcelain and lace designed in Bayeux,
- hundreds of archaeological and ethnological remains.
The visit is organized around 14 stages to retrace, in this sumptuous episcopal palace, the different eras from prehistory to the 20th century.
Our favorite moments at the museum
We will tell you more later in the article. But having really loved this museum, we couldn’t help but give you a taste of it right now. What we liked best about this visit:
- the rooms of the old Episcopal Palace with its chapel and its court, whose architectural details are very well preserved,
- the rooms devoted to the history of lace, a traditional skill in Bayeux, with all this educational and interactive dimension,
- the section of the exhibition dedicated to Bayeux porcelain with different styles displayed in the showcase from the beginning of the 19th century.
A little history
Bayeux is a city with a very rich historical and artistic heritage, since Roman times, for our greatest pleasure! It was not until the French Revolution of 1789 that the municipality built up a collection of objects and works of art for conservation purposes. The goal? Unveil to the public pieces of religious and noble heritage to promote access to history and culture.
At the end of the first half of the 19th century, a first museum was built in the middle of the city displaying the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Throughout this century, the municipality completed these collections through donations and bequests but also the purchase of art pieces. At the very end of this century of profound changes and political instability in France, it was Baron Henri-Alexandre Gérard who led the way. With a financial and material donation of 37 paintings from his personal collection, a first exhibition space for art objects was created.
In 1901, the “Musée de l’Hôtel de Ville” opened its doors in the former Episcopal Palace of Bayeux. It is gradually expanding as its collections grow. A century later, this museum unfortunately closed its doors. It was only 12 years later, in 2013, that the tour route was completely redesigned. With reorganized chronological stages, the scenography highlights the sumptuousness of the building and the richness of the artistic collections.
Practical advice: Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History (MAHB), Bayeux, France
Where is MAHB located?
The Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History (MAHB) is located at 37 rue du Bienvenu in Bayeux (14400) in Normandy.
- Driving time from Le Havre: 1h45min.
- Driving time from Deauville: 1h15min.
- Driving time from Caen: 35min.
- Time from Cabourg: 1h05min.
- Driving time from Mont-Saint-Michel: 1h35min.
- Driving time from Ouistreham: 50min.
How to get there?
The best way to get to Bayeux is by car, but the town has a train station with regular daily service.
The MAHB is located in the heart of Old Bayeux, only 1min walk from the Notre-Dame de Bayeux Cathedral and 5min walk from the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.
Once in the city, we recommend you to go on foot or to take the small tourist train because this museum is located in narrow streets. You may have difficulty parking in this area.
You’ll also have a lot of fun discovering this area on foot with its half-timbered houses and small cobblestone streets!
OUR ADVICE FOR RENTING A CAR IN Normandy
- Compare prices on our preferred platform: DiscoverCars – one of the best rated sites.
- Choose a car that is comfortable enough (distances can be long) but compact (some parking lots and villages are narrow).
- Think of thecomplete insurance (some roads are tortuous and narrow).
- There is a lot of demand, book it early.
Schedules and rates
- February to April: from 10am to 12:30pm and from 2pm to 6pm.
- May to September: 9:30 am to 6:30 pm.
- October to December: 10am to 12:30pm and 2pm to 6pm.
The museum is closed on the afternoon of December 24 and 31, on December 25, and from January 1 to 31 inclusive. Open from February 1st to December 31st.
The last entrance to the museum is 45 minutes before closing time. And tickets are only available on site.
- Full price: 7,50
- Reduced rate: 5,50€.
- School/student rate: 5€.
- Free for children under 10 years old.
Details of opening hours and prices (especially for groups) are available on the official website of the museum.
Best time to visit
In the morning or early afternoon, the museum is a little less crowded. You will also have more time to enjoy the 14 steps of the chronological route without rushing. Or simply stroll through the rooms according to the theme of the tour you choose!
Like many places in Normandy, July and August are high season in Bayeux. However, with more than 500,000 tourists each year, it is important to note that no matter what the season, you will always come across many visitors, even in the “low season”. On the other hand, it should be noted that from April to June and from September to October, the points of tourist interest are a little less full.
Visit duration and practical information
We advise you to allow 1h30 to 2h depending on your passion for art and history. Each stage dedicated to a particular era can consist of several rooms with numerous pieces and art objects to discover.
Finally, although there are some stairs, the museum is accessible to people with reduced mobility with a ramp and elevators.
Toilets are installed throughout the tour. You will find them, for example, as soon as you enter the museum just before the first prehistoric room.
This museum is included in the tours of Old Bayeux and the Little Tourist Train.
Tips for visiting
We have chosen to follow the 14 stages chronologically from the origins to the 20th century but the direction of the visit is not imposed. You can go from one room to another without following the itinerary, a guide is available if you wish to visit the museum independently.
The MAHB also invites you to follow its thematic tours, two in particular around:
- of women artists in the museum’s collections,
- stereotypes of men and women in the museum’s collections.
Along the way, you will also find educational booklets. They will allow you to go further in the understanding of certain works of art or objects.
MAHB with children
With children: in a stroller, in a baby carrier or on foot, the visit will be easy with your little ones.
It is also a “family-friendly” place in the scenography and the proposed contents with touch tablets installed everywhere in the exhibition rooms. You will find a quiz for the “juniors”. The Baron Gérard Museum also offers a game booklet for children aged 7 and over. The goal? Encourage the discovery of its collections by all audiences!
WHERE TO STAY IN Bayeux
Option 1: Central and close to downtown
Within 5 to 10 minutes’ walk of the historic center, you’ll find beautiful mansions transformed into welcoming hotels and B&Bs. We recommend..:
Option 2: in the countryside
The Normandy countryside is very green and inspiring. At the bend in the forest or in the fields, pretty villages with beautiful buildings transport you to another world, or even another era.
- Hotel Domaine de la Rançonnière, only 20 minutes from Bayeux – see prices, photos and availability.
Option 3: By the sea
The seaside is just 15 minutes drive from Bayeux. Breathe the sea air while enjoying easy access to Bayeux and the D-Day beaches.
- Hotel Villas d’Arromanches – see prices, photos and availability.
Bayeux is a town where you will find a good offer of restaurants, for all tastes and styles! Here is our small selection:
- Restaurant l’Acte 2 – traditional and authentic Norman cuisine.
- Restaurant L’Alchimie – fusion of local and foreign flavors.
- Restaurant L’Alcôve – gastronomic meal in a friendly atmosphere.
- Restaurant Le Moulin de la Galette – fresh and local products in an establishment in the heart of historic Bayeux.
- Restaurant La Rapière – refined seasonal cuisine in a 16th century setting.
- Les volets roses canteen tea room – for a gourmet and generous snack.
FOR ADVICE ON
QUALITY Support us
Do you appreciate all the free content you find on our blog?
Our independence, the only guarantee of qualitytips, is partly based on your generosity!
We offer you to give us a coffee (or several) in the hope of sharing it with you one day in person!
Located in an eleventh century episcopal palace
First of all, the particularity of the Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History (MAHB) is its location in the former Episcopal Palace of Bayeux. The preserved spaces of this ancient palatial building date from different periods. If you follow the chronological route proposed by the museum, you will first arrive in the old medieval chapel.
The old medieval chapel
This religious building of Gothic style was erected in the 13th century. As soon as you go down to start the tour, just before the prehistoric rooms, remember to look to your right. The walls of the chapel, very well preserved, have gutters and high windows. Originally, they housed a nave of over 100m2 decorated with an interior lining called wainscot. At the beginning of the Renaissance, a new palatial chapel was built, and two centuries later this religious space became a bell foundry.
The courtroom that became a tribunal
Portraits of bishops as wall decorations, this room is built in the seventeenth century. After the French Revolution, the municipality of Bayeux seized the palace as national property. The courtroom, to which you will have access on the first floor, became the court of first instance and of commerce of Bayeux until 1987.
Take your time in this room where every detail has its importance and meaning. The furniture, the scales, the bust of Marianne, the stained glass window that evokes the Civil Code… All these ornaments date from the 19th century. We were very intimidated by the idea of walking on this floor full of history. If you look up, you can admire the impressive oak coffered ceiling, which was built in the 17th century.
The Renaissance chapel
If you continue your visit, you will come across the Renaissance chapel built by Bishop Louis de Canossa in the 16th century. This room will become a deliberation room for the judges sitting in the court from the 19th century.
On the stained glass windows, you will see a band with a cycle of motifs reproduced at the level of the contours of each high window. These stained glass windows bring light into the chapel and contrast with the darker arcades.
Looking up at the ceiling, the octagonal structure of the chapel has vaults close to the intersecting ogives of the Gothic period. But in the center, was it a ballet danced by a cloud of little angels? Looking more closely at the paintings and the movement of the figures, we were in fact witnessing a concert of angel musicians. Wearing their instruments, they stand around the arms of the person who commissioned this fresco, Jacques d’Angennes, Bishop of Bayeux in the 17th century.
If you continue your visit to the chapel, you will see two side doors that were installed later in the 19th century. These are copies of the doors built for the d’Escoville mansion built on the Place Saint-Pierre in Caen in the 16th century. We were fascinated by this meticulous woodworking. Let’s mention that the carpenters made a pediment dedicated to the Last Judgment and if you look closely, the second one features the Apocalypse.
USE OUR GUIDE TO PLAN A
DREAM TRIP TO Normandy
All the information you need for your trip:
- 8 maps that make planning easier
- 160+ pre-selected locations
- Practical advice
- 300+ photos to help you choose
The rooms from Prehistory to the Middle Ages
Time travel: the prehistoric section of the MAHB
Let’s rewind if you want! You have decided to follow the route by following the chronology of the eras? You start with the prehistoric collections. From wall frescoes to archaeological remains discovered near Bayeux, these collections span nearly 4000 years! A map of the region provides information to understand the revelations that geological explorations have taught us.
More than 250,000 years ago, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers gathered near Bayeux intermittently. It was not until 8 millennia BC that settlement became more constant and noticeable in the region. The sedentary nature of the people then led to the development of agriculture. Several vestiges attest to the appropriation of the territory by these peoples in community. Remains of funerary monuments of the Neolithic, fragments of axe or bracelet, flint, hook, ceramics of agricultural establishment… So many prehistoric objects that will immerse you in this period widely studied by archaeologists.
The Gallo-Roman period
Do you know Augustodurum? No, this is not the name of a character from the famous comic strip Asterix and Obelix but the name of the ancient city of Bayeux!
The Romans founded this city at the beginning of the 1st century and named it after the Roman emperor Augustus. Its location was strategic for the Roman garrisons, at the crossroads of the Channel and Cotentin coasts, near the cities of Rotomagus (Rouen) and Vindunum (Le Mans).
In the region, several archaeological wonders have been unearthed and most of them are on display at the MAHB in Bayeux. For the greatest pleasure of our eyes, we had the chance to admire these thousand-year-old vestiges!
For example, this interior decoration of a domus in the photograph above dates from the end of the first century. Restored and studied for 11 years starting in 1999, these fragments have allowed us to reconstitute this decoration with almost intact ochre and earth colors forming at least three rooms. It is an adaptation of the style of large Italian houses of the time.
The Baron Gérard Museum (MAHB) is really educational, for adults and children alike, and we found that very enjoyable! Also, touch screens are at your disposal all along the route. You will find more details on certain periods or certain exhibits, as above in the Gallo-Roman section.
Middle Ages: from the decline of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance
When we entered this room dedicated to the Middle Ages, we were pleasantly surprised by the harmony between past and modernity in this room. Indeed, it has preserved its vaulted decoration of the eleventh and twelfth centuries beyond the art objects and archaeological remains exposed. The arches of the vaults have been restored and covered with a recent coating but the stone columns that support the room are authentic.
In this room of the former Episcopal Palace, the medieval, archaeological and religious collections are accompanied by paintings from the 19th century. What is the reason for this? These paintings, contemporary to the pieces and art objects exhibited in this section, illustrate historical facts from the medieval period. A very original scenography where works of art bring to light a part of the historical narrative in another way.
Another imposing masterpiece on this medieval route: the emblematic bell of Fontenailles. Did you know that this is the oldest inscribed bell in France? Bell entirely melted of bronze, we lingered on its inscription. Of religious significance, the text consists of praises followed by the date of the bell’s casting in 1202.
Close your eyes. Imagine yourself at the abbey of Longues-sur-Mer or at the church of Fontenailles which sheltered this (big) jewel. In this bucolic setting, you will be carried away by the tinkling of bronze bells and the singing of seagulls. Are you there?
The Middle Ages were also the era of Christianization, and this can be felt in the art objects discovered further along our tour! Christianity gradually imposed itself among the inhabitants of Bayeux. Moreover, the heritage of the Roman Empire in the liturgical and funerary practices can be felt in some of the pieces you will see on display, such as the tombs and sarcophagi. On the other hand, religious buildings evolved from the 8th century onwards.
For example, these models of parish churches allow you to visualize the architecture of the time. Imagine the importance of this place in the heart of the life of the city, daily punctuated by religious ceremonies and other events celebrated in the church.
- Best things to do in Bayeux
- Where to sleep in Bayeux: our best hotels
- Rent a car in Bayeux
- Where to eat in Bayeux: our best restaurants
- Visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum
- Visit the Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History
- Visit the Battle of Normandy Museum
- Discover the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Bayeux
- Discover the British Military Cemetery
Upstairs, from the Renaissance to the Age of Enlightenment
The Renaissance, or the artistic abundance
You then move on to the artistic influence, the Renaissance period, which began in the 14th century in Italy and ended in Europe towards the end of the 16th century. You will notice that this movement in European history is very much reflected in the paintings, in fact several paintings are exhibited in this section of the museum. Moreover, the rise of portraiture reveals the importance given to the individual.
In this room, the arrangement of the different works highlighted by the museum’s explanation panels allowed us to feel this humanist cultural imprint on the episcopal court of Bayeux. A demonstration of this intellectual renewal! The Renaissance is also synonymous with the circulation of knowledge thanks to the development of printing.
The scenography of this area of the exhibition undoubtedly attests to the fact that the literature, philosophy and arts of Greco-Roman antiquity are once again being honored. As here thanks to the art of sculpture, we were subjugated the finesse of these funerary statues in limestone of the early sixteenth century. The meticulousness of the sculptural skills and the hands joined in prayer of the deceased reveal a form of serenity that emanates from these spouses from the nobility in Calvados. True masterpieces of beauty for the pleasure of the eyes!
The classical revival of the Great Century (17th century)
The seventeenth century, also called the Great Century by the intellectual and artistic movement, resulted in the city of Bayeux being taken over by the episcopal power and a large urbanization plan. You will see, what is fascinating in these different rooms, beyond the artistic wonder, is that the works of art and objects really tell historical stories. In particular those that have impacted the city of Bayeux. On this floor, you can see a reconstruction of the urban plan of this Norman city in the 17th century.
In the schools of painting in the seventeenth century, a new style is born, carried by the artists Caravaggio in Italy and Rembrandt in the Netherlands: the chiaroscuro. Behind the lens of our camera, we tried to detect the contrasts between the more or less illuminated parts of certain works to capture all the substance. Chiaroscuro is indeed a legacy of ancient Greece that was abandoned in the Middle Ages before being re-explored, as you will see in this section of the museum, in the Renaissance.
It is also on this floor that you will have the possibility to visit the rooms of the old Episcopal Palace such as the court and the chapel if you go through the different rooms of the floor. Thanks to a touch screen and a detailed booklet, you will discover the secrets of these rooms where high characters have circulated and deliberated to mark the history of Bayeux.
Tolerance, freedom, equality: the watchwords of the Enlightenment
We are now in the 9th room of the tour. Are you still here? The 18th century in Bayeux is synonymous with a very active economic and artistic life. Bayeux’s bourgeois class gradually emerged to participate in the central decisions that impacted the city and its population on a daily basis. As for the nobility of Bayeux, they were more oriented towards the military field. More precisely, some officers participated in the maneuvers of the camp of Vaussieux in Lower Normandy to influence, in favor of Washington and the Insurgents, the turn of the American war of independence in 1778.
The Age of Enlightenment also rhymes with artistic renewal in terms of ornamentation and decoration. In this section, you will see that many items of antique furniture, signs of wealth of the houses, are perfectly preserved and highlight the fashion of the living rooms. Like this magnificent Louis XVI period chest of drawers which combines wood, low copper metal and marble to make its refinement shine.
Another tradition of Bayeux: the art of ceramics, appreciated both for its aestheticism and its practical function. Take these earthenware pots that you can admire in the window. They make up the pharmacopoeia of the apothecary of the old hospital of Bayeux. Why these different shapes from one container to another you may ask? Beyond the artistic will that drives the craftsman, the shape of the pot is determined by the material it will contain. Quite captivating to observe the artistic ingenuity of the time translated by this collection of earthenware. And yes, art is not only an object of contemplation!
A walk through the Gerard Room in the 19th century
You now enter the part of the museum dedicated to the 19th century, which is synonymous with political instability, revolution, but also modernization and development of industry. The artistic movement of the time felt a need to explore the mysteries of the soul and human sensitivity that would give birth to romanticism. A feeling we experienced when we discovered the Gerard Room.
The Gerard Room features several painters, but the work of François Gérard, uncle of the museum’s generous donor and official painter of Napoleon, caught our attention. This portraitist of the imperial family is inspired by Greek mythology by representing one of the nymphs who falls in love with Hylas, one of Jason’s companions in his quest for the Golden Fleece. The sweetness of this work dazzled us. Notice how the artist emphasizes the romanticism of the scene brilliantly. He manages to stop time to make visible these two beings at the edge of the waterfall. A passion that is thus brought to light under the spotlight.
Normandy in the 19th century between lace and porcelain
Leaving the Salle Gérard, you will first find yourself in the former salon of Paul Albert de Luynes, bishop of Bayeux at only 26 years old. Before moving towards the windows, take the time to scan the room with your eyes. Eighteenth-century woodwork adorns all the walls of the room.
How to pass by Bayeux without being impregnated with its traditional know-how: lace and ceramic art! Manufacturing processes, history of these economic activities, production mechanics, all these old objects tell you the mysteries of these prestigious and internationally recognized know-how.
The Bayeux lace
This is one of the sections of the tour that we particularly loved! The scenography is very aesthetic and really educational. You will understand how the lace-making activity was established in Bayeux from the 17th century on the initiative of the episcopal power. Also, you will learn more about the manufacturing process of exceptional pieces like this skirt designed in 1870 for the bourgeoisie of the time. The lace known as ombré allows to give a form of relief to peonies, daisies and other plants embroidered in black silk. An impressive work of precision!
The following room, equally spectacular in the lace and embroidery pieces on display, is very playful. In front of you as you enter the room, panels explain the 5 steps of the lacemaking process, from design to assembly.
If you look behind you, a bookcase of drawers reveals fragments of the decorative lacemaking repertoire of the period, as well as the major families of lace that exist. Chantilly of black silk, Bayeux of white linen or cotton, or Blonde of unbleached silk… Really instructive, don’t you think?
A visit to the Salle Caillebotte
In the continuation of these rooms, you now enter a room with 19th century objects, the Caillebotte room. These decorative and everyday objects, numerous paintings by the artist Gustave Caillebotte and items of antique furniture give a more traditional image of Normandy at that time.
Another tradition of the city of Bayeux: porcelain. In 1812, the porcelain factory moved to the city where production developed strongly until 1951, while sales of porcelain pieces took place in Paris. The Bayeux region is indeed a source of raw materials essential to the production of porcelain.
Suddenly immersed in the center of the glass windows displaying these precious sets of porcelain, consider comparing the different styles, colors, engravings and decorations. These objects are truly a showcase of Bayeux’s unique know-how.
A variety of panels will reveal the history of these unique pieces and the sources of inspiration of their artisans.
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO Normandy
Closing with the great upheavals of the 20th century
Now you can access the last major section of the chronological tour: the one dedicated to the 20th century. A century of great upheavals marked by the two world wars, industrialization and economic crises, the eclecticism of the arts will help you decipher these major changes through a contemporary perspective.
Between pottery, painting and photography, you will have a panel of artistic works to imagine life in Bayeux in the early 1900s. With a population of less than 8,000, Bayeux was strongly affected by the rural and working class exodus. Before the Der des Der, or First World War, the city enters the modern world. The arrival of electricity, running water and the installation of a railroad network marked the beginning of a new era and the development of tourism.
As you will see above and as you stroll through this room, a series of photographs attest to the evolution of the city at different times.
The two World Wars spared the city of Bayeux, which avoided the bombings, but these two unprecedented world conflicts left their mark on people’s minds. The paintings of Roland Lefranc, a painter and lithographer from Calvados in the mid-twentieth century, that you will see displayed in the room speak for themselves.
USE OUR GUIDE TO PLAN A
DREAM TRIP TO Normandy
All the information you need for your trip:
- 8 maps that make planning easier
- 160+ pre-selected locations
- Practical advice
- 300+ photos to help you choose
MAHB’s thematic tours
Discover the collections independently
We have chosen to visit the museum following the chronological direction of the 14 stages of history. However, you also have the possibility to discover the museum’s collections on your own. Do not hesitate to ask for more information at the reception desk when you arrive at the MAHB.
Women artists in the MAHB collections
The Baron Gérard Museum also honors women’s art through its collections. This is one of the thematic paths you can choose to follow to trace the history of these women artists on a European scale. Invisibilized until the middle of the 17th century, women remained quite marginalized in the artistic world. In the medieval society until the Revolution of 1789, they will struggle to make a place in art. MAHB celebrates their creative genius with a series of pieces and art objects worn by women.
Gender stereotypes in the collections
Art also reflects the history of societies and its evolution. It shapes models or frameworks, some of them more or less anchored. This original but non-exhaustive tour illustrates the gender stereotypes we witnessed during our visit, throughout the museum’s collections. Temptress, saint, mother… You will notice that women are sometimes subjected to societal norms and prejudices, reduced to a single personality trait. So, which tour will you choose?