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Cathedrale de Notre Dame

Paris, France

2008 Q4

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This issue’s limited edition print of a sketch by Ladd P. Ehlinger is of the southern facade of Cathédrale de Notre Dame, Paris from the left bank of the River Seine. This view was the only view available to the townsfolk until after World War II, when the buildings which crowded the western or front facade were demolished and their grounds converted to a viewing plaza. The outline of the walls of these removed buildings were used as different colored stone in the paving patterns in the plaza to echo their historic locations.

In a previous issue (4th Quarter 1992) the print published then was of the western facade (shown here in a thumbnail sketch), which is probably the finest and most characteristic in France and served as a model for numerous later Gothic cathedrals. Containing the main entrance, the view is spectacular due to the vista created by the viewing plaza. We promised in that issue to show the remainder of the building in a three quarter view perhaps from the rear. This issue’s view is not quite that view, so we may feature it again from the rear. This is one of the few Gothic buildings of which it is difficult to decide the view that is the most interesting. Bishop Maurice de Sully began the construct- ion of Notre Dame Cathe- dral in Paris in c. 1163, and it was completed in 1325, almost 200 years later. Notre Dame is typical of French Gothic cathedrals being the quin-tessential example. Located on the Isle de France in the middle of the River Seine in the center of Paris, it rises alone and magnificent from its flat island site. It is the ultimate French urban Gothic church of the townsfolk, originally a public meeting place for the common people, as well as a religious and ecclesiastical monument.

Equally spectacular is the view from the left tower of the western facade. All of the splendor of Paris is available in successive panoramic views. This tower is open to the public and serves as a strenuous test of one’s cardiovascular system, as there is no elevator to the viewing level of the arcaded screen that connects the two towers (approximately 120' high) only stairs at a rather steep angle.

The western main facade has three deeply recessed portals with successive encircling tiers of statued niches. The central doorway is divided by a statue of Christ on a pillar. Above the three portals stretches a band or frieze of statues depicting the kings of France. Above this in the center is a wheel window the great rose window of exceptional beauty. Flanking the rose window are high coupled windows, over which again is the pierced arcaded screen or frieze that was previously mentioned that connects the two towers.

The main facade of Notre Dame shown in the thumbnail sketch functions as a portal to another world. Architecturally, it hints at the other world in the view by teasing one with the partially visible buttresses on either side. The remainder of the exterior of the building is composed of the typical Gothic fare walls pierced by large windows, braced by incredible flying buttresses, decorated by gargoyles and finials. The east end has very slender flying buttresses with chevet chapels nestled between them along with the view of the delicate fleche (literally an arrow, actually a tower shaped like an arrow over the crossing, the intersection of the nave and the transepts) soaring 300' above the ground presents an ephemeral ambiance.

The plan of Notre Dame is on a bent axial line. It is unknown whether this was intentional or an accident and is a major flaw in an otherwise beautifully engineered compressive stone structure. Nevertheless, it is a typical Gothic plan: with a wide nave and double aisles, transepts of a shortened projection almost in line with the nave aisles, and an exceptional chevet with double aisles and radiating chapels between the buttresses. The interior has been said to be impressive but somber with a nave arcade with cylindrical columns with Corinthian- esque capitals that carry pointed arches and shafts to support the ribs of the lofty sexpartite stone vaulting that is approximately 110' high and spans about 36'.

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