Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is, like the Pont Neuf, an iconic monument of Paris and it was represented by many artists, from the 15th century on. Paintings of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral show a large span of the French heritage. Its occurrences in paintings tell us about the clashes of the history of men and the evolutions of taste in terms of architecture.
Paintings of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and the twists and turns of French history
The boom of the cathedral
Before Notre-Dame de Paris such as we know it today, there was in its place the Saint Etienne cathedral, built in the sixth century. The edification of today’s version of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral started in 1163 (and sprawled until 1365). It was the time of crusades and pilgrimages to Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, which, to cross the river Seine, went through l’île de la Cité, one of the capital’s famous neighborhoods. Thousands of worshippers arrived in the area and produced an intense commercial activity. The Bishop of Paris took the opportunity to launch the building of a new, bigger, cathedral.
In the 13th century, the cathedral became an important worshiping place because the relics of the Passion of Christ were taken there by Saint Louis. At the same time, the population of Paris doubled its size : the cathedral needed to be enlarged.
Artists almost completely ignored this initial cathedral.
The decline of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral
During the Renaissance, tastes evolved and Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral did not please as much as it used to. Few paintings of the cathedral are known. Among them, the amusing anonymous canvas L’enfant prodigue chez les courtisanes (The prodigal child at the courtesans), dating from the 16th century. The cathedral is only depicted in the background, with its first spire.
In the 18th century, it was the French Revolution, which emptied the nave of a lot of its paintings and precious items. That’s how Jean-François Depelchin represented the cathedral in 1789 in Vue intérieure de la cathédrale Notre-Dame (Interior view of Notre-Dame cathedral). The cathedral was brought back to worship in 1802 only.
In the 19th century, the cathedral was in a dire state and was on the verge of collapsing. Popularity picked up again thanks to the historical novel Notre-Dame de Paris written by Victor Hugo and published in 1831. In the artwork Une larme pour une goutte d’eau (A tear for a water drop), executed by Luc-Olivier Person in 1903, we can see Esmeralda who is offering water to Quasimodo on the pillory.
A gothic gem and one of the favorite subjects for the 20th century artists
The renewal of the cathedral
The French state decided to restore the cathedral. This rehabilitation started in 1844, engaged by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The latter intervened massively and was keen on having a gothic architecture which he thought fit and following the principles of the first cathedral makers. After his intervention and up to the sad date of April 15, 2019 the appearance of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral was not heavily modified. It reigned over the historical heart of Paris and became a flagship of the city.
Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, an aesthetic model
Thus, the stone lady offers its gothic profile to the best painters of the 20th century. In 1901, Maximilien Luce made for us to admire a diagonal view of the cathedral. It is the neoimpressionist artwork called Le quai Saint-Michel et Notre-Dame. In 1912, Paul Signac represented Notre-Dame using the divisionism technique in Le pont des arts. If you too want to learn about the secrets of the impressionist touch, don’t hesitate and choose an art class , in a chic and timeless 16th arrondissement flat in Paris.
The cathedral was classified as World Heritage by the UNESCO in 1991. Alas, on April 15, 2019, a fire devastated part of the building. The population of Paris, aghast and powerless, watched, the destruction of the spire. The President of the Republic promised that the cathedral would be fully restored by the 2024 Olympic Games organized in the French capital. It was decided to keep the exterior aspect of Notre-Dame prior to the fire.
While we wait for the famous silhouette of Notre-Dame to brighten Paris skies again, it is possible to go on admiring it by choosing an artwork depicting the stone lady or by training to paint it yourself !