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, 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]

1699:   In the year that work started on the new High-Altar, the Cathedral Chapter complained (to no effect) about the poor state of the building:  many of the exterior sculptures were crumbling; the high balustrade over the West entrance between the two towers was in ruins;  the rose window in the South transept was cracked; the stone paving had been compromised by the quantities of masonry and building materials piled on it.  In fact, the weight of monuments and other constructions had not only deformed the floor, but also cracked sculptures and windows and forced paintings to be taken down.

1725-1727:  Restoration of the south Rose Window
Archbishop Noailles finally undertook to have the South rose window entirely restored.  The architect Germain Boffrand oversaw the work which was executed by the mason Pinel, the glazier Guillaume Brice,  and  the painter of glass Benoît Michu who added the Cardinal's arms at the centre.

1726:  The roof was entirely replaced, partly at the Archbishop's own expense. Dangerous gargoyles and statues were taken down.  Extensive lead and cast iron guttering was added to avoid further water damage.

1728:  Noailles had the entire interior of the cathedral "re-whitened"(whitewashed presumably) . Boffrand repaired the vaulting in the roof at the transept crossing which had been in a bad state of repair since the early 16th century.

1730: The  organ at the end of the nave between the towers was refurbished, and part of the West rose window behind it repaired. 

1741:  The windows in the choir were replaced and fitted with clear glass.

Repairs and embellishments, c. 1740-1789.

15th June 1744:  Pierre-Charles de Lespine, accompanied by the architect of the Chapter, Nicolas Parvy, made a tour of inspection. They catalogued the poor state of the Cathedral's structure:  the West rose window buckled towards the exterior; the Virgin and Angels on the galley underneath had fallen down, with the debris swept into a corner.  Outside, three of the flying buttresses supporting the apse needed entirely replacing. The spire leaned. The statues, grotesques, gargoyles, and ornaments on the towers were crumbling dangerously.  Since the stonework could not be replaced, the architect proposed to remove it, as was in part carried out.
See Aubert, p.37: "We have insisted on this report to show that it was not only the Revolution which was to blame for the disappearance of the statuary and sculpture of Notre-Dame;  the 18th century, in its neglect, and in its contempt for the Middle Ages, also contributed greatly."
See also McManner, p.444: After the replacement of the windows by Le Vieux, "changes were episodic and destructive, getting rid of excesses of an unfashionable past".

1748: The baptistery of St. Jean-le-Rond, which adjoined Notre-Dame on the North side - the church after which d'Alembert was named -  was demolished.

1756: Soufflot's sacristy

Soufflot, visionary architect of Sainte-Geneviève, was responsible for work at Notre-Dame for over twenty years.

Between 1756 and 1758 he erected a sacristy and treasury on the  south side of the Cathedral, a large square building of three storeys, now entirely disappeared.  The plans were displayed as part of a major exhibition of Soufflot's work in 2013 as was this portrait, by Duplessis, of Canon François-Guillot de Montjoye,  intendant de la Fabrique of  Notre-Dame in the mid-century.
The Canon is shown holding Soufflot's plans in his hands.
See  the Notre-Dame website:

1765-67: A crypt was dug beneath the nave to contain bodies of the canons and church officials.  Following this work the King had the whole floor of the Cathedral repaved in black and white Bourbonnais marble tiles. The old slabs and tombstones were moved into the petit cloître.  The crypt itself survived the Revolution intact to be rediscovered in 1863.

1771:   Soufflot's elevation of the central West door

 In 1771, the great Soufflot was guilty of a regrettable piece of mutilation when he elevated the central portal of the church, ostensibly to allow canopies carried in procession to enter more easily. At Soufflot's own insistence, the central supporting pillar (trumeau) was destroyed and the medieval stonework on the central tympanum cut through. As Aubert comments, the work "did him little honour".   In reality, despite the trumeau,  the door had been sufficiently wide to provide an adequate opening.  According to the archive , since a piece of masonry had fallen and repair was needed,  the Chapter simply agreed to make the entrance "more convenient". For the first time it was possible to adorn the"grand dais",  repaired in 1768 at the expense of Canon de Montjoye, with splendid decorative feathers.

All the details:
Jean Taralon et al. "Observations sur le portail central et sur la façade occidentale de Notre-Dame de Paris, Bulletin Monumental, 1991, vol.149(4): p. 341-432

1778:  The architect Boulland refaced the walls and arches of the chapels on the south side of the nave.  The whole Cathedral was again whitewashed, at the expense of the abbé de La Fage.  

1781: The North rose was repaired.

1787:  Sculptures and ornaments were dismantled on the South elevation, the apse and the upper part of the West facade.  The contractor also inadvertently destroyed decorative columns on the towers and the mouldings which surrounded the West window.

J.F. Depelchin, View of the interior of Notre-Dame in 1789.  Musée Carnavalet
The Spire
The 13th-century spire was dismantled in the early 19th century.  It was not the direct victim of Revolutionary depredations, but had long been in a poor state of repair; in 1744 it was already reported to be leaning two and a half feet to the south-east.

Here are the available details:  from:  Lynn T. Courtenay, "Viollet-le-Duc and the flèche of Notre-Dame de Paris", in  The Engineering of Medieval Cathedrals (Routledge 2016; preview on GoogleBooks)

The Revolutionary period 

Despoliation of the Cathedral's treasures

On 2nd November 1789, the Cathedral became national property. The municipality of Paris was thereby placed under an obligation to raise money through the sale and reuse of materials from churches.  At Notre-Dame the Treasury was the first to suffer.  Caskets, reliquaries, sacred vessels, were sent to the Mint to be melted down. On 18th November 1790 an inventory of the paintings and sculptures in the cathedral was decreed. (It was on the 22nd November, at the end of the High Mass, that the Canons were commanded to leave the cathedral.)

In August 1792, in response to the  wartime emergency,  the Commune ordered that all bronze items; chandeliers, lamps, statues, even crucifixes, be taken, melted down and made into cannon.  The altar rails were to be used to make pikes.   The remaining bells were melted down, reserving only two per parish.  (In Notre-Dame, only the enormous Emmanuel bell, which weighs 13 tons, was spared)  Lead from the roof, and even from ancient coffins, was taken to be made into shot. On 8th October, the reliquary of Saint Marcel, which had hitherto been protected by popular veneration, was taken to the Monnaie  Citizens were ordered to go to the churches of the capital to help prepare supplies for the war effort.

Revolutionary iconoclasm

The Cathedral was still in use for services at the beginning of 1792, but there was a growing movement of popular iconoclasm against the churches and the symbols of royal power they contained.  The Revolutionary government tried at various points to moderate the destruction ; on 6th June 1792 the National Convention decreed two-years imprisonment for vandalising monuments belonging to national properties.  A Commission of Monuments was set up in order to preserve religious art with aesthetic and historical value.  On 14 August 1792, however, the National Assembly finally consented in principle to the destruction of "monuments of kings and feudalism".

The Commission was still not sure what to do about the royal statues and inscriptions of Notre-Dame.  The sculptors Mouchy and Boizot, with representatives  from the Section de la Cité  drew up up inventories, but  emphasised the need for "the conservation of precious monuments which could serve as proper models in favour of the progress of the arts".  In particular they wanted the safe removal of the statues of Louis XIII and Louis XIV from the Sanctuary as among best works of Coustou and Coysevoix.  The marbrier Scellier was instructed to proceed.  In December 1792, when work not yet begun, electors smashed a marble plaque with name of Louis XV on it.

The Gallery of Kings

The medieval sculptures of the "Gallery of Kings" on the West Front of the Cathedral - popularly supposed to represent the monarchs of France - remained in place throughout the popular iconoclasm of the summer of 1793.  Their presence aggravated radicals such as Chaumette who, in the Révolutions de Paris for July 1793, drew attention to "Signs of Royalty to efface".  Finally, the Ministry of the Interior bowed to popular pressure and gave orders to destroy "all signs of superstition and feudalism".  Documents in the National Archives describe the operation.  From September to October, under orders from the Commune, a contractor called Bazin, erected a 50-foot scaffold and set to work, but contented himself with merely chipping off the fleurons from the Kings' crowns.  On October 23rd, the Commune then decreed that the Gothic likeness of the kings of France on the facade of Notre-Dame (now the Temple of Reason) must be toppled and totally destroyed.  Another contractor Varin received the commission.  He found that the statues were made of hard stone and attached to the wall with iron clamps, so he first systematically broke off the heads.  The headless statues then were then chipped  free from the wall,  levered away from the facade and sent crashing down onto the parvis. Workmen presently cleared the debris to an area on the north side of the cathedral, in the cloister and along what is now the rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame.  There it remained for three years.  Mercier described the broken statues as forming a mountain covered with filth.    "Patriot" Palloy took three of the better preserved heads and offered them as trophies to the districts of l'Egalité (Bourg-la-Reine) Franciade (Saint-Denis) and Sceaux (l'Unité). David planned to use the rest as a base for a monument to the "everlasting glory of the French people", which was never built.  Finally in March 1796 a contractor called Bertrand was employed for their disposal.

Heads in the Musée de Cluny
 For almost two centuries only fragments of the statues had ever been found.  Then, remarkably, in 1977,  21 of the 28 heads were rediscovered in the basement of a house in the rue Causée d'Antin., along with 343 other fragments, all carefully encased in plaster for protection.  The house had originally been built in 1796 by the lawyer  Jean-Baptiste Lakanal-Dupuget who presumably acquired the relics - perhaps by chance as building material - and decided to preserve them.  Since Lakanal died in 1801, shortly before the Napoleonic Concordat, he would never have had the chance to return the statues to the Cathedral.

In addition Bazin removed the emblems from the front of the Archbishop's Palace  where the Section de la Cité  met. Varin  suppressed over 400 fleurs-de-lys inside the church, many requiring scaffolding over 15 feet high.  Those on the windows of the nave were simply painted out.  Following the Dechristianising decrees a further hundred or so other sculptures were removed from the exterior of the Cathedral.

Beautiful but bare - the Choir of Notre-Dame depicted by Charles Percier at the time of Napoleon's coronation

After the closure of the churches of the capital the former Cathedral served as a warehouse for furniture and theatrical props, as well as a state-owned wine store.  The abbé Grégoire, who formed a  "Société catholique de Notre-Dame", had the edifice returned by the Convention on 11th August 1795.  He found stacked up in the nave and aisles over 1500 bottles of wine, which had been loaded up daily to be sent to the Revolutionary armies.

Notre-Dame was reopened as a church despite "the broken glass, the damaged flagstones, the ground encumbered with rubble". The side doors of the Choir were unusable due to the piles of debris which had accumulated in front of them.  The altars were destroyed, the woodwork and the grills gone. Outsides were empty niches, mutilitated sculptures, windows plastered over or boarded up.  The parish was so poor that it had to rely on donations;  no restoration could be undertaken despite the fact that the Constitutional Church held two of its councils in the Cathedral, in 1797 and 1801.
After the Concordat, the church was favoured by Napoleon who held his coronation there and celebrated Te Deums for his victories. For the coronation, to  hide the worst, the walls were whitewashed and covered with Gobelin tapestries from the Garde-Meuble.  

Additional references for the Revolutionary era:

Richard Clay, "Signs of power: iconoclasm in Paris, 1789-95"  DPhil. thesis, University of London, Sept.1999.

Carmen Gómez-Moreno,Sculpture from Notre Dame. Paris (Metropolitan Museum,1979)

 Paris Unplugged, "1840 - Notre Dame avant restauration" (photos of the cathedral prior to the restoration by Viollet-le-Duc)

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