Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, founded in the twelfth century, had gone through many transformations; of the original choir little was left, and it had now a late seventeenth-century aspect in its interior. The appearance of the nave had also changed - especially the windows. The main entrance had been modified in an unfortunate way in the eighteenth century and the church had suffered from vandalism during the revolution; many of the statues, including the twenty-eight kings on the west front, had been removed and sold as building material. Recent repairs by Godde had not improved the condition of the building.

Conscious of the situation, Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc presented a long historical essay on the building as a basis for its evaluation. In their view, one could never be too prudent and discreet; a poor restoration could be more disastrous than the ravages of centuries, and new forms could 'cause the disappearance of many remains whose scarcity and state of ruin increases our interest'.20 A restoration could transform an old monument into new, and destroy its historic interest. The authors were against removing later additions and bringing the monument to its first form; on the contrary they insisted that: 'every addition, from whatever period, should in principle be conserved, consolidated and restored in its own style. Moreover, this should be done with absolute discretion and without the slightest trace of any personal opinion.'21 Through careful restoration they felt they could give back to the monument the richness and splendour it had lost, and conserve for posterity 'the unity

Figure 6.9 Project for the restoration of the south elevation of Notre-Dame of Paris by Viollet-le-Duc, including the new flèche to be built on the roof. (Arch. Phot. Paris - CNMHS)
Figure 6.10 Row of kings on the west elevation of Notre-Dame of Paris designed by Viollet-le-Duc. The spatial and artistic quality of these sculptures differs from the more architectural character of the mediaeval statues

of the appearance and the interest of the and to remove the layers of whitewash in the details of the monument'.22 The architects interior and redecorate them. They presented planned to rebuild the partition walls of the a hypothetical drawing of the choir as it would chapels in the side aisles with their decoration, have looked before the seventeenth-century

Figure 6.11 East elevation of Notre-Dame of Paris with the proposed new Sacristy on the south side. Second project by Viollet-le-Duc, adopted on 28 January 1843. (Arch. Phot. Paris - CNMHS)

changes, but the existing evidence was considered too scarce to justify restoration. They thought it impossible for a modern sculptor to imitate the primitive character of the bas-reliefs on the exterior, 'this naivety from centuries past!'23 Yet they proposed the restoration of the entrances to the cathedral, and the recarv-ing of the kings' statues on the west front, 'too important a page of history to be forgotten'.24 Didron, himself a painter of glass, sympathized with the two architects and their love and knowledge of 'Christian monuments'; not only because they had repaired some, but also because they had built some. Although he had always suspected architects of being inclined to do something new, the principles dictated by Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc sounded fairly convincing to him, and corresponded to the 'severe prescriptions of the new school of archaeology'.25 There were others who found it doubtful that this 'more or less vague', ideal plan could actually be carried out. One of the critics was César Denis Daly (1811-93), a prolific author and diocesan architect, born of an English father; he was especially doubtful about the intention to restore the ancient splendour and the unity of details, which he considered rather risky from the conservation point of view. In fact, many problems arose during the twenty years of hard work to realize the plans, and it was often difficult for the architects to decide which way to proceed. Lassus, who had been the older and probably the more decisive partner at the beginning, died in 1857, and Viollet-le-Duc remained to continue the work alone, and complete it in 1864.

When the works started, the nave windows were found in such poor condition that their rebuilding was considered necessary; but should this be done according to the existing form which was not satisfactory architecturally, or should they harmonize with one of the styles present in the cathedral? The answer was found in some traces of a twelfth-century rose window, which was taken as a model, although the problem was that some windows had to remain blind while others were open. In the choir, it was decided to show some remaining twelfth-century forms, and sacrifice later architecture in part. Viollet-le-Duc prepared a drawing to show how the spires might look if built on the top of the western towers. Lassus, however, was reluctant to build them, considering that they had never existed before. Over the crossing, traces were found where the flèche had been destroyed in 1792, and a new one was designed by Viollet-le-Duc, but only constructed after the death of Lassus. Features of the main entrance, transformed by Soufflot in the eighteenth century, were reproduced on the basis of a drawing considered reliable, 'just as they emerged from the ideas of the thirteenth-century architects'.26 The kings' statues were carved on the basis of some fragments that had been found, and drawing on coeval statues at Reims and Chartres. Models were also found for the stained-glass windows which were reproduced while keeping the existing fragments as evi-


Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment