One of the most recognizable landmarks on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris has come to symbolize a range of meanings in the cultural imagination: a major religious edifice, a masterpiece of medieval architecture, a repository for important relics and art, a symbol of Paris, and an iconic French landmark.
On April 15, 2019, a massive fire ravaged the 850-year-old cathedral, destroying the medieval wooden trusses supporting the roof, toppling the famous spire and severely damaging the building. Though the structure’s stability remains in question, all the historic relics and works of art–including the celebrated rose windows were saved by the rapid response of emergency workers and Cathedral staff, as well as experts charged with the preservation of the art and architecture.
In recognition of this historic event, the J. Paul Getty Museum will bring together a variety of works of art that showcase the rich cultural legacy of this beloved institution. The special single gallery installation – An Enduring Icon: Notre-Dame Cathedral – will be on view July 23 through October 20, 2019 in the East Pavilion of the Getty Museum.
“The recent fire at Notre-Dame reverberated around the world, with millions of people watching the event unfold live on their screens,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “We thought it appropriate at this moment to illuminate the artistic and cultural impact that Notre-Dame has played in European history, drawing on the rich holdings of the Museum and the Getty Research Institute. The exhibition presents paintings, photographs, engravings, and rare books that commemorate the enduring importance of the Cathedral, which has served as a symbol of Paris for more than eight centuries, through iconoclasm and wars.”
At the start of the 1800s, Notre-Dame was in terrible disrepair after the edifice was looted and damaged in the French Revolution. Two impressive personalities helped save the Cathedral, the French writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885), and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879). The enormous success of Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831; published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) sparked renewed interest in the Cathedral, enough to exert pressure on the authorities to address its decrepit condition. A decade later, French architects Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) and Jean-Baptiste Lassus (1807–1857) were selected to oversee a huge restoration effort. After the death of his collaborator, Viollet-le-Duc completed the immense project.
Dedicated in 1859, the spire that collapsed during the April 2019 fire counted among Viollet-le-Duc’s additions. “Both Hugo and Viollet-le-Duc were the true orchestrators of Notre-Dame’s revival in the 1800s,” says Anne-Lise Desmas, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty Museum, and curator of this show. “Their contributions henceforth became forever associated with the cathedral’s mystique. The artworks on view in this special installation elucidate the importance of this ‘majestic and sublime edifice… this aged queen of our cathedrals’, as Hugo called it, from its construction in the Middle Ages to its restoration in the 1800s.”
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