The emotion was tangible among the people present this Monday, April 15, on the bridges of Paris near the Cathedral, in the adjacent streets, on the square of the
Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. Passers-by were watching part of their heritage burn. We could then realize the importance of Notre-Dame Cathedral in the collective imagination of Parisians,
the French, and in view of the many reactions on social networks that evening, from all over the world.
Thanks to the work of the fire brigade, part of the structure and almost all the works of art and relics in the building were saved from the flames. The damaged ones will be
restored in the workshops of the Louvre Museum.
The first stone of the building was laid by Charlemagne and the last one, two centuries later by Philippe Auguste in 1345. This Gothic miracle, which combines ornamental
finesse and advanced technology, allowing the façade to be pushed even higher, has a special place in the heart of French people and visitors. Maybe because all the
mileage distances from France start from there. Perhaps also because the monument has survived all periods. Preserved globally by the French Revolution, which only took
down the busts of the kings exposed there. Spared by the Second World War.
The representations of Notre-Dame de Paris are so numerous that it would be impossible to be exhaustive. Here is a selection of books, paintings, films, cartoons, musicals,
which have contributed to give this monument an artistic aura.
How can we not start with Victor Hugo‘s Notre-Dame de Paris, published in 1831 by Charles Gosselin. This historical novel delivers, against a backdrop of loving
passions for various but tragic purposes, wonderful descriptions of the Cathedral “a kind of human creation, in a word, powerful and fruitful like the divine creation
whose double character it seems to have stolen: variety, eternity”. One page stands out after the fire of April 15, the one describing the assault of the building by the Cour
des Miracles at the end of the novel. “All eyes had risen to the top of the church. What they saw was extraordinary. On top of the highest gallery, higher than the central rosette,
there was a large flame rising between the two steeples with whirlwinds of sparks, a large, messy and furious flame whose wind sometimes carried a flap in the
Hugo‘s work has been adapted in movies more than ten times. The most notable one is probably the one made by Jean Delannoy in 1956, based on a screenplay by
Jean Aurenche and the poet Jacques Prévert, with Gina Lollobrigida and Anthony Quinn as the main characters. There are also many musical, television and theatrical adaptations,
a sign of the influence this work has had on world culture to this day. Disney studios, for example, drew inspiration from it freely for the cartoon The Hunchback of
Notre Dame released in 1996.
Another proof of its inexhaustible popularity, the book was, just one day after the fire, at the top of the sales on the Amazon website in France.
In poetry, Gérard de Nerval‘s Notre-Dame de Paris in the collection Les Odelettes published in 1853, praises the longevity of the cathedral, which “is very old: we may perhaps
see it buried, but Paris that it saw born” he said.
The monument has left its mark on many artists who have approached it. Even today it still inspires the authors, its eastern facade, the least known, with its stone arches
that fall towards the Seine are described at length by Yannick Haenel in his book Cercles published by Gallimard in 2007. The ascent of his steps were life-saving for
the climbing amateur Sylvain Tesson, who lives when he is in Paris “under the command of the Notre-Dame towers”, to use Charles Péguy‘s words. The physical and spiritual
ascents of the towers allowed him to accelerate his rehabilitation. He tells it in his book, A very slight oscillation released in 2017.
In music, we can remember Edith Piaf‘s 1952 song “Dans le Paris de Notre-Dame…” where she takes us on a tour of Paris from the Cathedral, the geographical and historical
centre of the entire capital. Léo Ferré with Les cloches Notre-Dame tries to wake up the Cathedral and get it out of its habit, to ring at any time to “frighten the fools”.
Not to mention the musical Notre-Dame de Paris by Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante, with Hélène Ségara and Garou, who also contributed to the Cathedral’s international
reputation in the early 2000s, performed in 20 countries and adapted in 9 languages.
In painting, we can mention the painting The consecration of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David, the Emperor’s official painter, which he painted between 1804 and 1805.
The canvas depicts the coronation ceremony of Napoleon I and Empress Josephine on December 2, 1804. The huge canvas (10 metres by 6 metres) is on display at the
Louvre Museum. Napoleon will react with impression when he discovers the painting: « How great it is! How beautiful it is! What a relief all these ornaments have! What a
truth! It’s not a painting. We live, we walk, we talk in this painting. »
Henri Matisse will paint it twice. Notre-Dame in 1900 preserved at the Tate in London, then Vue de Notre-Dame in 1914 preserved at the MOMA in New York. Its simplification
of the lines of the Cathedral further accentuates its hold on Paris.
The sculptures of animals and chimeras recreated by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during the restoration of the building in the middle of the 19th century inspired
many artistic expressions. The arrow with 16 statues representing the twelve apostles and the four evangelists collapsed in the fire. But these statues had been removed
three days before the fire to be restored.
In 1953, Marc Chagall painted The Monster of Notre-Dame, which represents a giant gargoyle and cock at the top of the cathedral. A nightmare vision, this painting is also
the expression of what Notre-Dame can inspire. It marks by its beauty and the finesse of its ornaments, but can impress and frighten when you approach it. The gargoyles
that punctuate its facade, guardians of the building against demons and sinners, have a frightening aesthetic.
Video games have also taken over Notre-Dame. Assassin’s Creed Unity, released in 2014, allowed you to climb up the towers and the arrow to admire the Paris of the
Revolution. It had taken two years to model the cathedral. Civilizations IV and V games consider Notre-Dame as a “wonder” offering advantages to the first player who builds it in the game.
Operas, comics, countless films and novels use the Cathedral and its square to unfold their intrigues. An architectural wonder, a timeless historical site, Notre-Dame
de Paris has a special place in the hearts of all those who have come across it. Everyone has a memory associated with the cathedral, a photo taken in front of it, the
taste of an ice cream tasted while admiring it. It is a source of inspiration and its recent partial destruction will only be an event that will open a new era in its long life
and inspire generations of artists from all over the world.