ART SPACE(S): Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Below is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Art Critique regarding the aftermath of the fire that burned Notre Dame’s wooden roof, spire, and masterpieces. I keep kicking myself for not taking more photographs of Notre Dame’s ceiling or Rose Window during my last trip to Paris.
The lesson to be learned is that nothing lasts forever; we should appreciate the artwork and historical monuments we have, while we have them. The Cathedral of Notre Dame needed saving and restoration decades before the fire of April 15. My hope is that cities with monuments and objects embedded in our cultural heritage can learn from this mistake and finds ways to financially support history.
Although Île de la Cité’s Notre Dame withstood looting, vandalizing during the French Revolution and bomb threats in both world wars, the fire on Monday, April 15 caused the most damage during the cathedral’s 854 years of history. While the cultural heritage site’s most famous relic, a part of the thorny crown that Jesus Christ is believed to have worn during the crucifixion, survived, many masterpieces, including the Rose Window, will need extensive restoration.
Commissioned by the Pope Alexander III, construction on Notre Dame began in 1163. Cathedrals of this caliber often undergo renovations, alterations, and additions as the centuries tick by, creating a pastiche of architectural elements from different centuries. The roof was the oldest section of the monument. Craftsmen built the ceiling from five thousand oak trees during the 13th century; burned to cinders, the “forest of trees” suffered the brunt of last week’s fire.
While other artworks and architectural elements can be repaired or replaced, the roof cannot. According to an official that spoke to The New York Times, there are no longer oak trees tall enough in France to replicate the roof. A few prestigious architects are already facing this challenge by submitting proposals for a glass roof or other high-tech solutions meant to, as President Emmanuel Macron said, create a structure “more beautiful than before.”
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the Notre Dame fire was when the flames reached the wooden spire and met its fiery doom. The original spire dated back to the 13th century but was lost in 1792. It was then replaced in the mid-19-century. Even more damage may have transpired if the copper statues of the Twelve Apostles and four New Testament evangelists had not been removed a week earlier for restoration.
Sculptures along with a series of large paintings depicting scenes from the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles and the 8,000-pipe organ, suffered extensive water damage during the fire. Officials speaking on behalf of the objects are confident that they will be restored. Accounts differ on the state of the famed Rose window; nets now cover the stained glass panels to limit the destruction. Early reports painted a grim picture, describing the iron casing as melted into the glasswork. More recent details suggest that the damage is less catastrophic, and experts have been consulted for its restoration.