|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Most certainly, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is still a sublime and majestic edifice. But, despite the beauty which it preserves in its old age, it would be impossible not to be indignant at the injuries and mutilations which Time and man have jointly inflicted upon the venerable structure without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid its last.
There is always a scar beside a wrinkle on the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals. Tempus edax homo edacior, which I should translate thus: Time is blind, man is stupid.
If we had leisure to examine one by one, with the reader, the various traces of destruction imprinted on the old church, Time's work would prove to be less destructive than men's, especially des hommes de Part, because there have been some individuals in the last two centuries who considered themselves architects.
First, to cite several striking examples, assuredly there are few more beautiful pages in architecture than that facade, exhibiting the three deeply-dug porches with their pointed arches; the plinth, embroidered and indented with twenty-eight royal niches; the immense central rose-window, flanked by its two lateral windows, like the priest by his deacon and sub-deacon; the high and frail gallery of open-worked arches, supporting on its delicate columns a heavy platform; and, lastly, the two dark and massive towers, with their slated pent-houses. These harmonious parts of a magnificent whole, superimposed in five gigantic stages, and presenting, with their innumerable details of statuary, sculpture, and carving, an overwhelming yet not perplexing mass, combine in producing a calm grandeur. It is a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the colossal work of man and of a nation, as united and as complex as the Iliad and the romanceros of which it is the sister; a prodigious production to which all the forces of an epoch contributed, and from every stone of which springs forth in a hundred ways the workman's fancy directed by the artist's genius; in one word, a kind of human creation, as strong and fecund as the divine creation from which it seems to have stolen the two-fold character- variety and eternity.
And what I say here of the facade, must be said of the entire Cathedral; and what I say of the Cathedral of Paris, must be said of all the Mediaeval Christian churches. Everything in this art, which proceeds from itself, is so logical and well-proportioned that to measure the toe of the foot is to measure the giant.
Let us return to the facade of Notre-Dame, as it exists today when we go reverently to admire the solemn and mighty Cathedral, which, according to the old chroniclers, was terrifying: quoe mole sua terrorem incutit spectantibus.
That facade now lacks three important things: first, the flight of eleven steps, which raised it above the level of the ground; then, the lower row of statues which occupied the niches of the three porches; and the upper row 1 of the twenty-eight ancient kings of France which ornamented the gallery of the first story, beginning with Childebert and ending with Philip Augustus, holding in his hand " la pomme imperiale.
Time in its slow and unchecked progress, raising the level of the city's soil, buried the steps; but whilst the pavement of Paris like a rising tide has engulfed one by one the eleven steps which formerly added to the majestic height of the edifice, Time has given to the church more, perhaps, than it has stolen, for it is Time that has spread that sombre hue of centuries on the facade which makes the old age of buildings their period of beauty.
But who has thrown down those two rows of statues? Who has left the niches empty? Who has cut that new and bastard arch in the beautiful middle of the central porch? Who has dared to frame that tasteless and heavy wooden door carved a la Louis XV. near Biscornette's arabesques? The men, the architects, the artists of our day.
And when we enter the edifice, who has overthrown that colossal Saint Christopher, proverbial among statues as the grand' salle du Palais among halls, or the fleche of Strasburg among steeples? And those myriads of statues that peopled all the spaces between the columns of the nave and choir, kneeling, standing, on horseback, men, women, children, kings, bishops, warriors, in stone, wood, marble, gold, silver, copper, and even wax, - who has brutally swept them away? It was not Time!
And who has substituted for the old Gothic altar, splendidly overladen with shrines and reliquaries, that heavy marble sarcophagus with its angels' heads and clouds, which seems to be a sample from the Val-de-Grace or the Invalides? Who has so stupidly imbedded that heavy stone anachronism in Hercanduc's Carlovingian pavement? Is it not Louis XIV. fulfilling the vow of Louis XIII.?
And who has put cold white glass in the place of those richly-coloured panes, which made the astonished gaze of our ancestors pause between the rose of the great porch and the pointed arches of the apsis? What would an under-chorister of the Sixteenth Century say if he could see the beautiful yellow plaster with which our vandal archbishops have daubed their Cathedral? He would remember that this was the colour with which the executioner brushed the houses of traitors; he would remember the Hotel du Petit-Bourbon, all besmeared thus with yellow, on account of the treason of the Constable, "yellow of such good quality," says Sauval, ,and so well laid on that more than a century has scarcely caused its colour to fade;" and, imagining that the holy place had become infamous, he would flee from it.
And if we ascend the Cathedral without stopping to notice the thousand barbarities of all kinds, what has been done with that charming little bell-tower, which stood over the point of intersection of the transept, and which, neither less frail nor less bold than its neighbour, the steeple of the Sainte-Chapelle (also destroyed), shot up into the sky, sharp, harmonious, and open-worked, higher than the other towers? It was amputated by an architect of good taste ( 1787), who thought it sufficient to cover the wound with that large plaster of lead, which looks like the lid of a pot.
This is the way the wonderful art of the Middle Ages has been treated in all countries, particularly in France. In this ruin we may distinguish three separate agencies, which have affected it in different degrees; first, Time which has insensibly chipped it, here and there, and discoloured its entire surface; next, revolutions, both political and religious, which, being blind and furious by nature, rushed wildly upon it, stripped it of its rich garb of sculptures and carvings, shattered its tracery, broke its garlands of arabesques and its figurines, and threw down its statues, sometimes on account of their mitres, sometimes on account of their crowns; and, finally, the fashions, which, ever since the anarchistic and splendid innovations of the Renaissance, have been constantly growing more grotesque and foolish, and have succeeded in bringing about the decadence of architecture. The fashions have indeed done more harm than the revolutions. They have cut it to the quick; they have attacked the framework of art; they have cut, hacked, and mutilated the form of the building as well as its symbol; its logic as well as its beauty. And then they have restored, a presumption of which time and revolutions were, at least, guiltless. In the name of good taste they have insolently covered the wounds of Gothic architecture with their paltry gew-gaws of a day, their marble ribbons, their metal pompons, a veritable leprosy of oval ornaments, volutes, spirals, draperies, garlands, fringes, flames of stone, clouds of bronze, over-fat Cupids, and bloated cherubim, which begin to eat into the face of art in Catherine de' Medici's oratory, and kill it, writhing and grinning in the boudoir of the Dubarry, two centuries later.
Therefore, in summing up the points to which I have called attention, three kinds of ravages disfigure Gothic architecture today: wrinkles and warts on the epidermis, -these are the work of Time; wounds, bruises and fractures, -these are the work of revolutions from Luther to Mirabeau; mutilations, amputations, dislocations of members, restorations, -these are the Greek and Roman work of professors, according to Vitruvius and Vignole. That magnificent art which the Vandals produced, academies have murdered. To the ravages of centuries and revolutions, which devastated at least with impartiality and grandeur, were added those of a host of school architects, patented and sworn, who debased everything with the choice and discernment of bad taste; and who substituted the chicorees of Louis XV. for the Gothic lacework, for the greater glory of the Parthenon. It is the ass's kick to the dying lionĄ It is the old oak crowning itself with leaves for the reward of being bitten, gnawed, and devoured by caterpillars.
How far this is from the period when Robert Cenalis, comparing Notre-Dame de Paris with the famous Temple of Diana at Ephesus, so highly extolled by the ancient heathen, which has immortalized Erostratus, found the Gaulois cathedral " plus excellente en longueur, largeur, hauteur, et structure."
Notre-Dame de Paris is not, however, what may be called a finished, defined, classified monument. It is not a Roman church, neither is it a Gothic church. This edifice is not a type. Notre-Dame has not, like the Abbey of Tournus, the solemn and massive squareness, the round and large vault, the glacial nudity, and the majestic simplicity of those buildings which have the circular arch for their generative principle. It is not, like the Cathedral of Bourges, the magnificent product of light, multiform, tufted, bristling, efflorescent Gothic. It is out of the question to class it in that ancient family of gloomy, mysterious, low churches, which seem crushed by the circular arch; almost Egyptian in their ceiling; quite hieroglyphic, sacerdotal, and symbolic, charged in their ornaments with more lozenges and zigzags than flowers, more flowers than animals, more animals than human figures; the work of the bishop more than the architect, the first transformation of the art, fully impressed with theocratic and military discipline, which takes its root in the Bas-Empire, and ends with William the Conqueror. It is also out of the question to place our Cathedral in that other family of churches, tall, aerial, rich in windows and sculpture, sharp in form, bold of mien; communales and bourgeois, like political symbols; free, capricious, unbridled, like works of art; the second transformation of architecture, no longer hieroglyphic, immutable, and sacerdotal, but artistic, progressive, and popular, which begins with the return from the Crusades and ends with Louis XI. Notre-Dame de Paris is not pure Roman, like the former, nor is it pure Arabian, like the latter.
It is an edifice of the transition. The Saxon architect had set up the first pillars of the nave when the Crusaders introduced the pointed arch, which enthroned itself like a conqueror upon those broad Roman capitals designed to support circular arches. On the pointed arch, thenceforth mistress of all styles, the rest of the church was built. Inexperienced and timid at the beginning, it soon broadens and expands, but does not yet dare to shoot up into steeples and pinnacles, as it has since done in so many marvellous cathedrals. You might say that it feels the influence of its neighbours, the heavy Roman pillars.
Moreover, these edifices of the transition from the Roman to the Gothic are not less valuable for study than pure types. They express a nuance of the art which would be lost but for them. This is the engrafting of the pointed upon the circular arch.
Notre-Dame de Paris is a particularly curious specimen of this variety. Every face and every stone of the venerable structure is a page not only of the history of the coun try, but also of art and science. Therefore to glance here only at the principal details, while the little Porte Rouge attains almost to the limits of the Gothic delicacy of the Fifteenth Century, the pillars of the nave, on account of their bulk and heaviness, carry you back to the date of the Carlovingian Abbey of Saint-Germain des Pres, you would believe that there were six centuries between that doorway and those pillars. It is not only the hermetics who find in the symbols of the large porch a satisfactory compendium of their science, of which the church of Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie was so complete an hieroglyphic. Thus the Roman Abbey, the philosophical church, the Gothic art, the Saxon art, the heavy, round pillar, which reminds you of Gregory VII, the hermetic symbols by which Nicholas Flamel heralded Luther, papal unity and schism, Saint-Germain des Pres and Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie; all are melted, combined, amalgamated in Notre-Dame. This central and generatrix church is a sort of chimaera among the old churches of Paris; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the body of another, - something from each of them.
I repeat, these hybrid structures are not the least interesting ones to the artist, the antiquary, and the historian. They show how far architecture is a primitive art, inasmuch as they demonstrate (what is also demonstrated by the Cyclopean remains, the pyramids of Egypt, and the gigantic Hindu pagodas), that the grandest productions of architecture are social more than individual works; the offspring, rather, of nations in travail than the inspiration of men of genius; the deposit left by a people; the accumulation of ages; the residuum of the successive evaporations of human society; in short, a species of formation. Every wave of time superimposes its alluvion, its stratum upon the building, stone. Thus build the beavers; men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a beehive.
Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Often the fashions in art change while they are being constructed, pendent opera interrupta; they are continued quietly according to the new art. This new art takes the edifice where it finds it, assimilates with it, develops it according to its own fancy, and completes it, if it is possible. The result is accomplished without disturbance, without effort, without reaction, following a natural and quiet law. It is a graft which occurs unexpectedly, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which returns. Certes, there is material for very large books and often a universal history of mankind, in those successive solderings of various styles at various heights upon the structure. The man, the artist, and the individual efface themselves in these vast anonymous masses; human intelligence is concentrated and summed up in them. Time is the architect; the nation is the mason.