Monday 29 April 2019

A Hundred Marriages at Notre-Dame

On Monday 8th February 1779 a hundred couples were married simultaneously in a single splendid ceremony at Notre-Dame. I first came across a reference to this event in a copy of the early 20th-century guide book by E.V. Lucas, A Wanderer in Paris.  "Some very ugly events are in store for us;" we are told in the section on Notre-Dame,  "let something pretty intervene". The original source is an even more mawkish French work by a certain Pauline de Grandpré.  She paints a beautiful, romantic vision:  a hundred brides and grooms,  married at the behest of a beneficent royalty, in bright, candle-lit, flower strewn cathedral.

 Somehow this is a past that never quite was.... I decided to investigate.

19th-century visions of the Royal Family.
Imaginary scene by Charles Louis Lucien Muller (1857) 
On 19th December 1778, after nine years of marriage, Queen Marie-Antoinette was safely delivered of a daughter Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, later Duchess of Angoulême.  Relief was universal, since the birth of a dauphin now seemed assured. There were outpourings of official rejoicing. Marie-Antoinette herself decided the moment was right for a populist gesture:

"The Queen was persuaded by the love for her show by the citizens, to reply with an act of benevolence which would particularly extend to the people".

 Marie-Antoinette refused the celebrations offered to her by the municipality of Paris and asked instead that the money be employed to provide dowries for a hundred deserving poor girls, who would be married en masse on the day of the Royal thanksgiving service in Notre-Dame.  Additional allowances were be paid when a first child was born, with a higher rate available for mothers who breastfed.  As a further celebration of family life,  an elderly couple would be chosen to renew their marriage vows in front of their "children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren".

Thursday 25 April 2019

Notre-Dame of the imagination

If the Notre-Dame of the 19th and 20th centuries belonged to Victor Hugo, the Notre-Dame of the contemporary imagination belongs to the game Assassin's Creed Unity.  In 2014 the cathedral was reconstructed in loving detail by Ubisoft. Over 10 million gamers are estimated to have visited the virtual Notre-Dame, climbed over its roof and even scaled the now destroyed spire.

Monday 22 April 2019

Notre-Dame in the 18th century (continued)

Anon, Cardinal Louis-Antoine de Noailles (1651-1729), Archbishop of Paris.  Musée Carnavalet.
The portrait commemorates the Archbishop's embellishment of Notre-Dame.  To the right, stonemasons can be seen at work. The architectural drawings at his feet are identified as: the Noailles chapel, the niche for the reliquary of St Marcel, the altars of the Virgin and St Denis and the vaulting of the transept crossing.  On his knees are the plans for the restoration of the South rose window

Exterior and structural repairs  c. 1700-1750  

It is easy to accuse Notre-Dame's 18th-century custodians of neglect. Despite the immense revenues of the diocese, even structural maintenance relied heavily on benefactors such as Canon La Porte and Archbishop Noailles himself, whose architectural initiatives are celebrated in the painting above from the Carnavalet.  According to Professor McManners, the early years of transformation, were followed by a period of repair and innovative restoration, and only then by "another of destructive incidents" [Church and society in eighteenth-century France, v.1 (1998) p.444]

Saturday 20 April 2019

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in the 18th century

All of us, were dismayed by the terrible fire at Notre-Dame, though happily more of the Cathedral and its treasures seem to have survived than could at first have been thought possible. It is perhaps encouraging to remember that the building has been through many vicissitudes in its long history.....

Contemplation of the future, inevitably raises uncomfortable debates about reconstruction, restoration and reinterpretation. The Age of Enlightenment has not received a good press in this respect. Despite a grudging admiration for individual works of religious art, it has long been fashionable to follow Viollet-le-Duc and his contemporaries in condemning the 18th-century's disregard for the medieval past.  According to my 1977 Blue Guide, for instance, "Until the end of the 17C Notre-Dame had preserved intact its appearance of the 14C, but the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV brought deplorable alterations, particularly in the destruction of tombs and stained glass". 

Wednesday 10 April 2019

A French Revolutionary children's card game

Here is a cool set of  children's "Geographical" cards from the time of the the French Revolution, currently for sale on the AbeBooks website ( all yours for $1,320 if you want them!)

There are 48 cards, each one describing a different country or geographical feature of the world, and featuring a small circular portrait of a native. The cards measure 2.5 x 4 inches and come complete with their original pink-papered box.

The date (late 1790s/1800) is easily deduced from the text:

5th Card:  "France": 
France, we learn,  has been governed by sixty-seven Kings from three different races,  from Pharamond to Louis XVI, in whose reign monarchical government was "finally abolished".  France today, we  are assured, is "the country in the world where the art of living in society is cultivated with most success."(!)

38th Card "Etats-Unis"
 "The Americans, aided by the French, proclaimed their liberty in 1776 and formed themselves into a republic, under the name of the United States."
Philadelphia is given as the American capital, which confirms the date as 1800 at the latest.

Card 48:  "Terres Polaires et Australes".  
The card mentions New Holland, Botany Bay (which is a convict colony) and Van Diemen's Land.

Geographie'. French children's geographical card game dating from the period of the French Revolution, with cards pertaining to Terres Australes and Etats Unis"
Offered by Antipodean Books, Maps & Prints in Garrison, New York on AbeBooks.
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