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.