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Historical and Geographical Conditions of the Object’s Construction

Notre Dame (fr. Notre-Dame – “Our Lady”) is the French nickname for the Virgin. The cult of the Virgin began to gain significance in France in the 12-13th centuries. Medieval knight poetry, courtly scenes, the cult of a woman connected with religious beliefs and, as a result, a gentle attitude to the image of Madonna as an earthly mother and, at the same time, a lovely lady, which was created in the medieval France. At that time, people began to call her “Notre-Dame” – “Beautiful” Lady or “Our Lady”. In many cities in France, chapels, churches and cathedrals were dedicated to the Mother of God and received the name of Notre Dame, namely in Amiens, Lat, Clermont-Ferrand, Paris, Poitiers, Reims, Senlis, Strasbourg, Chartres. On February 10, 1638, King Louis XIII solemnly dedicated the State of Franks to the Virgin Mary. This event is known in history as the “Vow of Louis XIII” (Inglis 63–85).

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In the heart of Paris, on the eastern part of the Ile de la Cité, the jewel of French Gothic architecture, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, rises majestically. Notre Dame de Paris is striking in its beauty and elegance. In this work, the history of construction of this Gothic masterpiece will be covered, as well as the aspects of its architectural design will be analyzed.

Construction of Notre-Dame de Paris began in 1163 and lasted for 167 years, until 1330. Construction was initiated by a Parisian Bishop Maurice de Sully. Bishop de Sully spent on the construction of the Cathedral both a large part of his fortune and his life. Upon the completion of construction, the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, with its beautiful interior decoration, for many centuries served as a venue for royal weddings, imperial coronations and lush national funerals. During the French Revolution in the 1790s, Notre Dame de Paris, like most other religious and monarchical symbols of the country, was severely damaged.

Restoration of the cathedral, which was in an extremely poor condition, began only in 1845, under the leadership of the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and lasted for more than twenty years. During this time, in addition to reconstruction of the original appearance of the cathedral, the architect built a Gothic spire and gallery of Chimeras with statues and images of birds, demons and monsters, astonishing imagination (Bruzelius 540).

Being built at a time, when most of the population did not have any education, and the history of religion was passed literally from mouth to mouth, the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral presents scenes and events of the Bible in its portals, paintings and stained glass windows. Here, there are no mural paintings, and the only source of color and paint is numerous high stained glass lancet windows. Light, passing through these “glass paintings”, acquired a mysterious color, causing a sacred trembling among believers.

After a long planning, finally, an official ceremony was held and Pope Alexander 3 laid the first stone in the foundation of a brand new building, which in a sense could be considered the prototype of the Gothic cathedral itself.

This does not mean that Notre Dame de Paris was the first cathedral built in the Gothic style, however, this was the first attempt to construct a monumental building, which would be not only a typical example of the new style, but at the same time, a building with the unique individuality. With dimensions of 130 m in length and 35 meters in height, not including the arches, Notre Dame de Paris in scale is far superior to most of other Gothic cathedrals. Not surprisingly that for this project, it was necessary to change the construction plans of the whole district! However, since it was about the Metropolitan Cathedral, located near the residence of the kings, this was not perceived as excessiveness.

Analysis of Design and Tectonic Systems

Notre Dame – is a basilica with galleries and double side aisles. Before, such a design was used very rarely, only in the most significant specimens of the temple architecture such as the Church of the Abbey of Cluny and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This alone is enough to put Notre Dame de Paris in a privileged position, especially given the fact that later, Gothic cathedrals with double side aisles were built only in exceptional cases. Divided in two longitudinal rows of giant columns, the double aisles in the apse pass into double deambulatory. The deambulatory problem, regarding the fact that the radius in its eastern point was forced to be wider than at points of contact with the side aisles, was solved by doubling the number of columns and installing of the triangular arches close to each other.

As a result, Notre Dame can be justifiably proud of its correct form. Single rhythm throughout the interior space and the harmony between the straight and curved lines of the choir balcony are also preserved due to the fact that the central nave arcades are equipped with uniform columns, as in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Above the main columns of the central nave of Notre Dame the uniform beams of thin pilasters rise. In each beam, there are three pilasters, regardless of the profile of the arch in the point of its intersection with the supports. The huge blades of six-part arches that are much larger than too closely contiguous sections of a four-part arch are in tune with the vast planes of walls.

In other words, the creators of Notre Dame did not try to fully open the surface of the wall, but sought for a spectacular contrast between the visibly thin and flat wall, on the one hand, and elegant pilasters and ribs of arches, on the other. Initially, this technique produced even a stronger impression, since the plane of the wall above the gallery was extensive and interrupted only by small windows. However, this design was not preserved, because it was too dark in the cathedral. In the 13th century, window openings have been expanded, and in the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc made alterations to the windows adjacent to crossing (Hiatt 12).

During one of the reconstructions some changes have been made to contrast the system of walls and pillars of the central nave of Notre Dame. Now, spans of galleries are divided into three parts, and the side walls of galleries are supported not by round columns, but by flat pilasters. These supports are contrasted with pilasters of the central nave (thinner than even pilasters of the choir balcony) – tall monolithic pillars, not interfusing with the wall, as originally. The theme of a flat wall surface is repeated on the west facade of Notre Dame. Since the towers here, unlike the towers of Laon cathedral, crown the double side aisles, they are wider and more stable.

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Notre Dame Cathedral is the most majestic and popular monument of early Gothic. In the outstanding western facade of the cathedral, horizontal lines are still competing with vertical ones. The facade wall still exists (this is only the beginning of the Gothic), but it has already acquired lightness and even transparency. As shown by the French architectural historian, Auguste Choisy, the proportional basis of the western facade of the cathedral of Notre Dame is a square, and the height of the towers of the facade is half the side of the square.

Analysis of Rhythmic Regularities

It is impossible not to appreciate the power and nobility of Gothic structures, their strict greatness. The interiors of these buildings are distinguished with dynamics and expression, corresponding to philosophical and aesthetic ideals of their time.

Comparison of heads of the remaining statues of the right and central portal of the cathedral’s western facade is particularly striking. David’s head of the right portal was created by the artist, still held captive by the Roman method of dealing with the form, but who has already experienced the rich psychological possibilities of plastics. Romanesque frontality, massive forms, ornamental development of features is combined with tendency to mitigated modeling of the face and its internal spiritualization. Apostle’s head from the central portal of the cathedral’s western facade expresses a new artistic worldview.

The Romanesque graphic and decorative development of forms gave way to rich pictorial and plastic properties. Thin plastic modeling of face, noble proportions of the head with a high forehead, natural and graceful plastic treatment of the hair and beard bring this work together with the works of classifying direction of the Gothic sculpture, developed in the first half of the 13th century. The inner significance of the image, an aura of deep concentration corresponds to the general spirit of the “strict classics” and inspired restrained nobility of the portal sculpture and places it among the best works of sculpture of the early 13th century (Murray 21).

The composition of the Virgin tympanum (between 1210-1220) breathes with dignified peace, attracting the simplicity of total picture, generosity of poses, restrained gestures, seriousness and significance of elegant and light draperies. The spirit of a deliberate, restrained grandeur, noble balance and dignity dominates in the sculpture of the western facade, preserved to this day.

The sculptural decoration of the northern and southern facades presents a different picture. In the northern portal, performed under the supervision of Jean de Chelly in 1250, the movements of the figures became livelier and more varied; elegant draperies fall with wide folds, a lot of details and minor features appeared. The number of scenes has increased significantly, and craving for a detailed narrative story, full of interesting domestic scenes, emerged here in its basic features already in the first half of the 13th century, while in other sculptural schools of France, it will appear much later, by the very end of the century, and will successfully develop throughout the next century.

According to the preserved inscription, the southern portal, dedicated to St. Stefan, was started on February 12, 1258, under the leadership of Jean de Chelles, and completed by Pierre de Montreyl. In its sculptural design, there is a tendency to a detailed story, naturalism of numerous characters, scenes, situations, actions, and additional accessories, already noticeable in the northern portal and achieved by sculptors at the cost of losing the perfect grandeur and monumental unity, describing the scenery of the western facade. The western facade of the Notre Dame Cathedral is crowned with two mighty towers, gazing skyward, and divided into three tiers.

At the bottom, gantry tier is a kind of cap, bearing the burden of the top two tiers. Its wall, not closed with architectural decoration, gives the impression of stability and strength to the entire building. Three large deep portals reveal thickness of the strong wall, passing plasticity to it and deep internal tension to the entire tier. At the same time, lancet, prospectively recessed arches of portals facilitate a very slow, but definite upward aspiration.

The lower tier is completed with the “Gallery of Kings”, whose rhythm, on a smaller scale, repeats the balustrade of the second tier. The center of the second tier is filled with a large round window, the so-called Rose. Above lateral portals, there are large windows, covered with broad and shallow lancet arches, archivolts, as if repeating the pattern of portals located at the bottom; in tympanums of arches, roses of a smaller size are located. In the second tier, the wall is less accentuated than in the lower one: its massive overweight is not expressed. The third tier is formed by a highly penetrated with light gallery, which consists of a delicately woven lancet arches, rising from the thin and slender columns.

In this gallery, the vertical facade is implemented fully and freely. Rising further, the viewer’s eye lingers on the ledge and then turns to a majestic rise of immense slender lancet windows of the towers, the bases of which are hidden with arcade of galleries. The facade and towers form a harmonious ensemble, inscribed in a high rectangle that in combination with the increase of verticals from tier to tier creates the impression of an upward aspiration. At the same time, each of the tiers, taken separately, is stretched horizontally, and it keeps quiet strength and stability in the architecture of the facade. Noble, at first glance, simple proportions of the facade on closer examination turn out to be extremely rich and complex.

Each motif of the facade, with all its crystal clarity and certainty comes into diverse interactions – design, scale and rhythmical – with all the other. This gives the unusual combination of clear simplicity and complexity of wealth, which, in spite of the restoration of the 19th century, distinguishes this first masterpiece of French Gothic (Temko 81).

Facades of transepts, as already mentioned, are the creation of advanced Gothic. Their more slender and graceful forms, almost complete the absence of the wall plane, free dynamics of vertically developing architectural shapes and huge delicate rose complement and enrich the expressiveness of the main facade. Facades of transepts are organically combined with delicate light flying buttresses that frame the main ship of the cathedral, as if floating above the surrounding houses, with its 12-meter high lancet windows. The vast interior of the central nave strongly dominates over lower and less illuminated side aisles. The interior, like the facade, is pierced with solemnly severe grandeur, but its architectural rhythms are more directed skyward, and the weight of the material is felt to a lesser extent.

The inner walls of the central nave are also divided into three zones. The lower one consists of massive and squat columns holding up arcades, which separate the central nave from the side ones. The middle zone is formed by the arches of Emporia, facing to the central nave with their wider openings, similar in form to paired windows of the second tier of the western facade. The lancet archivolt of each span covers three arcs. Above the Emporia arches, forming a third division zone, there are high arched windows with colored glass. The higher the tier, the more slender and elongated upwards are the proportions of the arches and windows (Myers 51).

In the back of the central nave, which is permeated by the flickering light of stained glass, there is an altar, illuminated by countless wavering lights of candles and fabulous glow of huge stained glass of the altar section of the temple.

Perception of gothic temple interior by modern men is, of course, free from the mystical ecstasy, with which medieval people associated their aesthetic experience. People clearly feel the power of art, the beauty and richness of spatial forms and rhythms, unfolding like a polyphonic song, which is menacingly ceremonial or lyrically thoughtful, dim or exulting. The greatness of the human spirit and its inspirational imagination is the basis of the aesthetic charm of Notre Dame, and, in general, of all the Gothic masterpieces. It should be noted that at that time, the Cathedral was not only the religious center, but also the center of social life of the city. It was a place for lecturing, as well as meeting of representatives of shops and municipal Magistrates.


The famous cathedral of Notre Dame is the most impressive and certainly the most remarkable monument of the early Gothic, which opens up a new era in the history of the Western architecture. Nearly six centuries have passed, since it was built, and Paris was transformed due to its slender hulk, which reigned over the city. The capital of France has increased numerously over the centuries, it has been adorned with many other world famous monuments, but Notre Dame still presides over it, continues to serve as a historical symbol, and is still regarded by people as one of the greatest embodiments of the French art genius.

Long ago, the center of the city moved to the west; subsequently, it stopped being the centre of its social and political life, and people tend to forget that it has once been called to embody the idea of the monarchy triumphant, under the patronage of the church, whereas the first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1163 by the French king and the Pope, who specifically arrived to Paris; and many centuries later, also in the presence of the Pope in Notre Dame, Napoleon was crowned.

Like the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens and Sofia in Constantinople, Notre Dame de Paris is worthy to indicate the age-old ideals and artistic culture of the people, who created it, not only in centuries, but in millennia.

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