The crypt of Notre-Dame reopens with an exhibition dedicated to Victor Hugo and Viollet-le-Duc

Closed since the 2019 fire, the archaeological crypt under the forecourt of Notre-Dame reopens to the public on Wednesday September 9 with an exhibition paying tribute to Victor Hugo and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the two key men in the resurrection of the cathedral in the nineteenth century.

It is the first museum-type site to be so close to the cathedral and to reopen since the fire of April 15, 2019. It took more than a year to complete the depollution of the forecourt from the lead dust that left it behind. ‘had impregnated.

The visitor will be able to discover the Gallo-Roman remains which occupy the center of the crypt: the remains of thermal baths and a rampart, the votive monument for the boatmen of Paris and the Pillar of the Nautes, discovered during excavations in the 1960s.

But the exhibition “Notre-Dame de Paris, from Victor Hugo to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc»Which opens on Wednesday, tells a much more recent story: the extraordinary return to grace in the 19th century of an abandoned monument, today celebrated around the world.

«A tribute to the cathedral»

Paris-Musées hopes that tourists will return to this museum, which was frequented before the disaster by some 170,000 visitors per year. “This project was born very quickly after the fire, from a desire to pay homage to the cathedral. I worked on the photographs which make it possible to follow the renovation site in the 19th century. Photography is also contemporary with heritage protection», Explains to AFP Anne de Mondenard, curator and head of the photographic and digital collections of the Carnavalet museum.

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The exhibition, which is based on a collection of old and fragile photos – signed by great names: Charles Nègre, Charles Marville, Auguste Mestral … -, dating for some of the beginnings of the daguerreotype, is accompanied by drawings, canvases, extracts from films that show all the phantasmagoria around the cathedral and the novel by Victor Hugo, up to today’s cartoons.

Popular enthusiasm after the publication in 1831 of Notre Dame de Paris, the influence that the novel had on the work undertaken by the architect Viollet-le-Duc between 1844 and 1864, are well documented. For many, the cathedral becomes a “national heritage monument», The soul of a city, more than a cultural place.

In Hugo’s mind, Notre-Dame is an extraordinarily disturbing, dangerous building, not at all a radiant, luminous cathedral.

Vincent Gille, curator at the Maison de Victor Hugo

«The exhibition begins with the cathedral as it appeared when the novel was published, in which a fire is premonitously evoked.», Observes Vincent Gille, curator at the Maison de Victor Hugo. “It is an extraordinarily disturbing, dangerous building, not at all a radiant, luminous cathedralIn Hugo’s mind. Several drawings by the novelist attest to this.

Extracts from a 1911 silent film by Albert Capellani show the cathedral given over to the tragic and tortured fates of Esmeralda and the hunchback Quasimodo. A gouache by François-Nicolas Chifflart represents the fire imagined by Hugo, the lead flowing in two jets between the towers.

Demolition envisaged in 1831

In 1831, the cathedral was vandalized and is poorly maintained, it is planned to be demolished. Period photos highlight the fragility of the building. Victor Hugo wrote a fiery fire in 1825, War on wreckers : «There may not be in France, at the present time, a single city where it does not meditate, where it does not begin, where the destruction of some national historic monument does not end.».

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Notre-Dame has undergone many transformations often aimed at erasing its Gothic character. The spire erected in 1250 was dismantled in 1786. Under the Revolution, the statues of kings were destroyed, the cathedral became a temple of Reason.

Hugo’s novel had such an impact on the imagination of his time that Viollet-le-Duc was inspired by it, when he designed the monsters like the Stryge which would adorn the heights of the cathedral.

The exhibition also illustrates how state services then understood the importance of this new medium of photography and placed orders for heritage sites. Viollet-le-Duc will keep a large number of views of the building, signed by the greatest photographers of the time, which will also be used in his restoration work.


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