Notre-Dame de Paris: Diverging Views in the 19th Century

Notre-Dame de Paris: Diverging Views in the 19th Century
Much of the world collectively gasped on the evening of April 15th, 2019, when fire ravaged the iconic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. As flames ruined the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling and licked toward the night sky, the 13th-century landmark looked every inch an illustration from a tragic gothic tale. Shocked observers wondered if Notre Dame would survive the night. Could it be saved? Could it be rebuilt? How would it be rebuilt? Millions, if not billions, have been raised to rebuild Notre Dame and reconstruction has begun, although in a stop-start fashion as Covid-19 hinders most of 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron has recently ended speculation over the future of Notre-Dame de Paris, stating that ‘Our Lady’s’ spire will be restored to its original design. A replica of Viollet-le-Duc’s 93m spire, added to the Cathedral in 1859, will be built as part of the reconstruction. The decision to replicate the spire aligns with a bill passed by the French Senate that stated that the cathedral’s rebuilding must be faithful to its “last known visual state.” The Notre-Dame de Paris on fire, April 15, 2019 at 21:21. Photo credit © Baidax, (CC BY-SA 4.0) This ends months of speculation that the spire would be rebuilt in a modern style. Macron himself had previously favored a contemporary design. Two historical characters that had diverging opinions on Notre Dame’s appearance were the renowned writer Victor Hugo, and neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. In Hugo’s camp was Quasimodo, in David’s, Napoleon Bonaparte. The cathedral Victor Hugo portrayed in Notre-Dame de Paris published in 1831, and the cathedral David painted for Napoleon’s 1804 coronation were different spaces not far apart in time, yet the atmosphere they created for this sacred space couldn’t be more different. Comparing Hugo’s depiction of Notre Dame and its protagonist to Jacques-Louis David’s Coronation of Napoleon and its main subject, it is evident that both of these anti-monarchists were after change, but change meant different things to these two creators. The Notre-Dame de Paris interpreted in Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Coronation of Napoleon (1807) was a cathedral changed in his imagination from a gloomy, gothic space into a bright, illuminated one. This represented the neoclassical style popular in David’s day. Napoleon, the painting’s central figure, was portrayed as a demigod as he crowned his wife Josephine as Empress. Joséphine kneels before Napoléon during his coronation at Notre Dame. Behind him sits pope Pius VII. Photo credit © Jacques-Louis David, (public domain)

Lead photo credit : Notre-Dame. Photo credit © Stefaan,

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.