Friday, April 26, 2019

Two Designs for Notre-Dame de Paris

In the wake of the fire which damaged Notre-Dame de Paris last week, and the subsequent discussion of proposals for its restoration, this drawing has appeared several times on social media.

This comes from the pen of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), who dedicated many years of his life to restoring Notre-Dame after the tremendous damage inflicted on it during the French Revolution, and in the many years of political and social turbulence that followed. It is supposed to represent his ideal way of completing the church, if he had had an unlimited budget; I have seen a few people comment on their relief that he didn’t. Here is another rendering of the same idea, apparently based on the cathedral of Rheims.

While we are on the subject, it should be remembered that well before the Revolution, in the 17th-century, French churches underwent a first wave of vandalism with the destruction of countless rood screens. Here is a drawing of what the sanctuary area of Notre-Dame de Paris looked like before its was taken down at the beginning of the 18th century. Note the two circular structures with staircases inside them at the bottom left and right; these were used to reach the ambos on top of the screen, one in the middle of each side, from which the Epistle and Gospel were sung. (Our friends at Canticum Salomonis published some translations of a interesting treatise in defense of rood screens by Fr Jean-Baptiste Thiers, originally written in 1688.)

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