Culture

Fire Rages as Workers Rush to Save Notre Dame Precious Artworks

As Notre Dame burns, first responders are desperately saving some of the cathedral’s most precious art and relics. Can her artworks be saved?

Apr 17, 2019 | By Jonathan Ho

Notre Dame is on fire. There’s a very real danger of the flames will consume everything but the skeleton of the famed Parisian cathedral. But in our memories and the pages of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, we can nurture hope.

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,— following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder. – Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hugo is right. Notre Dame was built, it was once rebuilt. And it can be rebuilt. The Grand Lady was once condemned and neglected. It’s hard to imagine that today, the most popular landmark in Paris, eclipsing even the signature Effiel Tower by double the visitors was once the subject of a campaign for demolition. Hugo himself predicted, “the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth.” In a feat of poetic irony, success of Hugo’s novel drove enough popular sentiment that the King ordered Notre Dame’s restoration in 1844.

Now, even as fires continue to rage, Notre Dame stands as a collective testament of human will and endurance. Workers are now fighting to save its soul even as fire ravages her body, considered one of the world’s great works of architecture. Within the stone walls of Notre Dame lies some of the world’s (and Christiandom’s) greatest treasures.

Notre Dame is home to the Relics of Sainte-Chapelle, it is said that a relic of the true cross is housed at the cathedral as is the preserved crown of thorns placed on Jesus before his crucifixion. According to a Parish Priest, these have been rescued; but first responders continue to toil for Notre Dame Artworks like: the 50 “Mays” of Notre Dame.

The “Mays” of Notre Dame were a series of large paintings commissioned every May (hence the name) each year from 1630 to 1707. Notredamedeparis.fr has a full list of the artworks listed in French. When disaster struck, some of these pivotal artworks were on display:

  • Jacques Blanchard, The Descent of the Holy Spirit, 1634
  • Charles Poerson, The Preaching of St. Peter in Jerusalem, 1642
  • Sebastien Bourdon, The Crucifixion of St. Peter, 1643
  • Louis Cheron, The Prophet Agabus predicting to St. Paul his sufferings in Jerusalem, 1687
  • Not a “May” artwork but still greatly important – Jean Jouvenet, The Visitation, 1716, depicting the visit from the Angel Gabriel to Mary

The “bones” of the Notre Dame – The organs, still require saving. The five keyboards and its 8,000 pipes, the Great Organ of Notre Dame is woven into the interior architecture of the grand cathedral. These would take some time to extricate as fire-fighters continue to manage the blaze.

“The most valuable works have been sheltered,” said General Jean-Claude Gallet, commander of the Paris Fire Brigade, according to Le Parisien.

Though statues of the 12 apostles had been removed during some of the renovation work, Notre Dame is home to some of these significant statues as well:

  • Our Lady of Paris – a representation of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child
  • Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Mausoleum of Count Harcourt, 1776
  • Louis Castex, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, 1934

“Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,” – Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot

While Notre Dame’s architecture is largely masonry and stone, the cathedral’s wood interior is likely to be gutted. The iconic stained glass windows which pioneered cathedral window architecture throughout the Europe were built in 1260 but in its current incarnation, is not the original after centuries of damage culminated in the 1830 fire which required its replication.

The cathedral’s iconic spire as well most of the roof is gone. But the twin towers, the facades, bell towers and flying buttresses ( a testament to early engineering ingenuity) and much of the building’s general structure still remain. Only one serious injury has been reported thus far.

Meanwhile, François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering Group, holding company for brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga has pledged $113 Million to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. We have saved the Grand Lady before, we will save it again. Deo Gratias

 

 
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