One of the most recognisable structures in Paris, the cathedral of Notre Dame not only contains a great deal of artwork within it, but has also inspired artists who have come to Paris since its completion in the 1200s. Depictions of Notre Dame chart nearly a millennium of Parisian history, from its medieval origins, to its sweeping revolutions and focal position within the development of Modern art. In remembrance of the building's enduring place within the cultural depictions of the city and the hearts and minds of its residents, here are some of the most significant works of art inspired by Notre Dame.
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Head of King David (c.1145). Courtesy of the Met
As representatives of ancient monarchical rule in France, each of the limestone kings which decorated the Notre-Dame cathedrals portals were destroyed during the French Revolution. This head, severed from its body in front of cheering crowds, depicts King David, who was regarded as an ancestor of Jesus. This work was the only known surviving kings head from the cathedral until a discovery in 1977 which found 21 of the figures hidden in a basement beneath Paris Bank of Foreign Trade.
Jean Fouquets The Right Hand of God Protecting the Faithful against the Demons (c.1452-1460). Courtesy of the Met
Taken from The Hours of Étienne Chevalier, a lavish illuminated manuscript painted in fifteenth century France, it depicts It shows the faithful Christians looking up at the hand of God, as demons flee to the left and right. This tempera and gold leaf parchment work is one of the earliest topographically accurate views of medieval Paris. Immediately recognisable alongside Notre Dame are the spire of Saint-Chapelle, the Pont Saint-Michel, and other monuments of the Île de la Cité.
Jacques-Louis Davids The Coronation of Napoleon (1805-07). © Universal History Archive / UIG via Getty Images
The cathedral has played host to many pivotal moments in Frances history, including the crowning of Napoleon I as Emperor of the French in 1804. Realised by Bonapartes official painter David, it shows Napoleon dressed in robes similar to those of a Roman emperor, holding a crown above his head as though anointing himself. Enormous in stature (measuring 10 meters wide), it exposes both the grandeur of the Cathedrals interior and Napoleons imperial ambition.
Eugène Atgets Notre-Dame (1923) . Courtesy of MoMA
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Atgets oeuvre found a fixation in creating what he termed “documents” of the city and its surroundings, compiling a visual compendium of the architecture, landscape, and artefacts which best represented French history and culture. In his old age, however, he worked more for his own pleasure and during the last five years of his life photographed Notre Dame regularly. Atgets photography of the cathedral always zooms in on details of the buildings facade, or views it from at unusual angles in the distance, as seen here.
Eugène de Bassanos Side Portal of Notre Dame (c.1845). Courtesy of MoMA
This photo of the cathedrals side portal is an example of the calotype, a method of early photography developed alongside the daguerreotype, which used paper coated with silver iodide and focused on the quality of image and smoothness of surface. Taken before the beginning of the 1844 restoration, it is an example of the paper photographs of Frances great monuments which Bassano pioneered in the mid 19th century.
Henri Matisses Notre-Dame, une fin d'après-midi (1902). Courtesy of Wikimedia
This glimpse of Notre Dame is a view from Matisses apartment and studio in Paris, where he was living and working from 1899-1907. He returned to the same vantage point throughout his career, approaching it form various different styles. Matisse painted this piece during his so-called Dark Period, a time of personal difficulties when the artist worked with mostly sombre shades. Today, the painting is in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
Pablo Picassos Vue de Notre-Dame de Paris – le de la Cite (1945)
Picasso tackled the scenes of Paris throughout his life, particularly focussing on bending the buildings, the bridges and the river into the Cubist style that he pioneered. This piece painted after the Second World War, captures the Notre Dame in a softer and looser style in muted pastel colours, possibly reflecting a lighter mood after the liberation of the city.
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