Many of those around the world watching news coverage of the terrible fire at Notre-Dame in Paris likely either reflected on a visit to the cathedral in their lifetime or felt a pang of regret at having not made it there before the fire. I personally thought back on my trip to Notre Dame as a young architecture student more than 20 years ago. Standing just inside the entrance, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and struck silent by the centuries of history surrounding me. Like most architecture students, I was trained to record and analyze what I saw through both pen and camera. Looking through our collections yesterday, I found wonderful examples of how artists, photographers and architects have captured Notre-Dame de Paris over the years through their own medium. As we learn what was saved and what was lost in the fire, let’s take a look back.
I’ll start with how two American architects whose works appear in our collections sketched Notre Dame. On the left, we have the work of Cass Gilbert, architect of the Woolworth Building in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as well as hundreds of other buildings. During a visit to Paris in 1880, he put ink to paper, recording meticulous detail of the cathedral. Gilbert visited not long after extensive renovations added a spire back to the cathedral under the guidance of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Sadly, the spire, in the background of the sketch, collapsed in the fire this week.
On the right, modernist architect Victor Lundy took a much bolder approach when he created this vibrant watercolor of the cathedral during a 1948 visit.
The photochrom process, a combination of black-and-white photography and color lithography, was used to create these vivid views of the cathedral in the last decade of the 19th century:
The two photographs below show an earlier Notre Dame. A stereograph from circa 1865 shows the 19th-century renovations still underway. The second view, taken between 1851 and 1870 by early French architectural photographer Edouard Baldus places Notre Dame in the landscape of Paris:
Printmakers have also been fond of the subject of Notre Dame, as seen in the views below:
In the coming years, we hope rebuilding the lost parts of the cathedral will inspire new drawings, photos and prints for us to reflect on in the future.
- See additional views of Notre Dame in Paris, France in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Explore the Photochrom Prints collection for more colorful views of the world. Read about the Photochrom process.
- Browse through a selection of images related to architect Cass Gilbert in the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division.
Thank you for sharing this classic images of Notre Dame, our damaged and endangered UNESCO world heritage site. This great medieval cathedral has inspired Catholics, French citizens, international visitors, and architectural admirers across the globe.
It’s a sad cliche, but we often fail to sufficiently appreciate the beauty around us until it is gone.
I am saddened to have seen this historical landmark go up in flames the other day. Hopefully something positive will be learned about how to avoid fires like this one.
As an international visitor to the Notre Dame on my last trip to Paris in 1992, it saddens me to know that students and visitors from around the globe will not be able to see this world heritage Cathedral as it was. Bermuda College took language students to Paris every summer. I served as a chaperone and remember so well the peace and solitude that came over our group as we entered the Cathedral. All were in awe. It was as if a cloak of magical silence of respect engulfed us.
Thank you for these images and history. While the images of the fire destroying our beloved Notre Dame are forever etched in my mind, what I’ll truly remember is the thousands of French citizens and Paris visitors standing together, singing hymns, and praying for her. Notre Dame has always brought people together. Let’s pray she recovers quickly.
Thanks for mining P&P’s collections for all of these images beyond the more commonly seen photographs.
What is really sad is that the fire damage could have been negligible if a chain of human errors had not delayed the firemen’s intervention. The main culprit is the architect in charge, who declined having an automatic phone call to the fire station triggered by the alarm system. He thought that this old pile of wood would burn slowly and they would have time to assess the situation before deciding on what to do. How stupid for a man in charge of such a universal heritage!
Other errors followed, and it took about 25 minutes until the firemen were called to the site. They couldn’t do anything to save the framework.