447. Notre Dame de Paris, (view from the
449. West facade, Notre-Dame, Paris
445. Plan of
Notre Dame de Paris
446. Notre Dame de Paris, interior
Notre Dame de Paris
Although St.-Denis was an abbey, the future of Gothic architecture lay
in the towns rather than in rural monastic communities. There had been a
vigorous revival of urban life, we will recall, since the early eleventh
century. This movement continued at an accelerated pace, and the growing
weight of the cities made itself felt not only economically and
politically but in countless other ways as well. Bishops and the city
clergy rose to new importance. Cathedral schools and universities took
the place of monasteries as centers of learning, while the artistic
efforts of the age culminated in the great cathedral churches.
Notre-Dame ("Our Lady," the Virgin Mary) at Paris, begun in
1163, reflects the salient
features of Suger's St.-Denis more directly than does any other church
(figs. 445-49). The plan
(fig. 445), with its
emphasis on the longitudinal axis, is extraordinarily compact and
unified compared to that of major Romanesque churches. The double
ambulatory of the choir continues directly into the aisles, and the
stubby transept barely exceeds the width of the facade. The sexpartite
nave vaults over squarish bays, although not identical with the
"Siamese-twin" groin vaulting in Durham Cathedral (see fig.
408), continue the kind of
structural experimentation that was begun by the Norman Romanesque.
Inside (fig. 446) we find
other echoes of the Norman Romanesque: sexpartite nave vaults over
squarish bays, and galleries above the inner aisles. The columns of the
nave arcade are another conservative feature. Here, too, the use of
pointed ribbed arches, which was pioneered in the western bays of the
nave at Durham, has become systematic throughout the building. Yet the
large clerestory windows and the lightness and slenderness of the forms
create the weightless effect that we associate with Gothic interiors and
make the nave walls seem thin. Gothic, too, is the verticality of the
interior space. This depends less on the actual proportions of the nave—some
Romanesque naves are equally tall relative to their width—than
on the constant accenting of the verticals and on the soaring ease with
which the sense of height is attained. Romanesque interiors (such as
that in fig. 403), by
contrast, emphasize the great effort required in supporting the weight
of the vaults.
In Notre-Dame, as in Suger's choir, the buttresses (the "heavy bones"
of the structural skeleton) are not visible from the inside. (The plan
shows them as massive blocks of masonry that stick out from the building
like a row of teeth,) Above the aisles, these piers turn into flying
bridges that reach upward to the critical spots between the clerestory
windows where the outward thrust of the nave vault is concentrated (fig.
447). This method of
anchoring vaults, a characteristic feature of Gothic architecture,
certainly owed its origin to functional considerations. Even the flying
buttress, however, soon became aesthetically important, and its shape
could express support (apart from actually providing it) in a variety of
ways, according to the designer's sense of style (fig.
The most monumental aspect of the exterior of Notre-Dame is the west
facade (fig. 449). Except
for its sculpture, which suffered heavily during the French Revolution
and is for the most part restored, it retains its original appearance.
The design reflects the general disposition of the facade of St.-Denis,
which in turn had been derived from Norman Romanesque facades such as
that of St.-Etienne at Caen (see fig. 407).
Comparing the latter with Notre-Dame, we note the
persistence of some basic features: the pier buttresses that reinforce
the corners of the towers and divide the facade into three main parts,
the placing of the portals, and the three-story arrangement. The rich
sculptural decoration, however, recalls the facades of western France
(see fig. 406) and the
elaborately carved portals of Burgundy.
Coronation of Napoleon I on Sunday 2 December 1804, at Notre Dame, in
a 1807 painting by
Much more important than these resemblances are the qualities that
distinguish the facade of Notre-Dame from its Romanesque ancestors.
Foremost among these is the way all the details have been integrated
into a wonderfully balanced and coherent whole. The meaning of Suger's
emphasis on harmony, geometric order, and proportion becomes evident
here even more strikingly than in St.-Denis itself. This formal
discipline also embraces the sculpture, which is no longer permitted the
spontaneous (and often uncontrolled) growth so characteristic of the
Romanesque but has been assigned a precisely defined role within the
architectural framework. At the same time, the cubic solidity of the
facade of St.-Etienne at Caen has been transformed into its very
opposite. Lacelike arcades, huge portals and windows dissolve the
continuity of the wall surfaces, so that the total effect approximates
that of a weightless openwork screen. How rapidly this tendency advanced
during the first half of the thirteenth century can be seen by comparing
the west front of Notre-Dame with the somewhat later facade of the south
transept, visible in the center of figure
In the west facade, the rose window in the center
is still deeply recessed and, as a result, the stone tracery that
subdivides the opening is clearly set off against the surrounding wall
surface. On the transept facade, in contrast, we can no longer
distinguish the rose window from its frame, as a single network of
tracery covers the entire area.
Rose window, Notre Dame, Paris.
Portal of the last judgment, Notre-Dame, Paris
Portal of Kings of Notre Dame in Paris.
Notre Dame de Paris, classical interior
Notre Dame de Paris, statue.
Notre Dame de Paris, statue.
Head of King David, ca. 1145.
France, Paris, Cathedral of Notre-Dame,
south portal of west facade
(Saint Anne Portal)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris, also called Notre-Dame Cathedral, cathedral
church in Paris, France. It is the most famous of the Gothic
cathedrals of the Middle Ages and is distinguished for its size,
antiquity, and architectural interest.
Notre-Dame lies at the eastern
end of the Île de la Cité and was built on the ruins of two
earlier churches, which were themselves predated by a
Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. The cathedral was
initiated by Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, who about 1160
conceived the idea of converting into a single building, on a
larger scale, the ruins of the two earlier basilicas. The
foundation stone was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163, and the
high altar was consecrated in 1189. The choir, the western
facade, and the nave were completed by 1250, and porches,
chapels, and other embellishments were added over the next 100
Notre-Dame Cathedral consists
of a choir and apse, a short transept, and a nave flanked by
double aisles and square chapels. Its central spire was added
during restoration in the 19th century. The interior of the
cathedral is 427 by 157 feet (130 by 48 m) in plan, and the roof
is 115 feet (35 m) high. Two massive Early Gothic towers
(1210–50) crown the western facade, which is divided into three
stories and has its doors adorned with fine Early Gothic
carvings and surmounted by a row of figures of Old Testament
kings. The two towers are 223 feet (68 m) high; the spires with
which they were to be crowned were never added. At the
cathedral’s east end, the apse has large clerestory windows
(added 1235–70) and is supported by single-arch flying
buttresses of the more daring Rayonnant Gothic style, especially
notable for their boldness and grace. The cathedral’s three
great rose windows alone retain their 13th-century glass.
Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered
damage and deterioration through the centuries, and after the
French Revolution it was rescued from possible destruction by
Napoleon, who crowned himself emperor of the French in the
cathedral in 1804. Notre-Dame underwent major restorations by
the French architect E.-E. Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th
century. The cathedral is the setting for Victor Hugo’s
historical novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831).