Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame Burns


In 2012 I visited Paris and had the opportunity to spend several hours sketching Notre Dame Cathedral from the banks of the Seine. I was following in the footsteps of Ronald Searle who creating an amazing series of sketches of the city in the 1950s. I tracked down the same locations he sketched and sketched the scenes myself. The styles of the cars had changed but otherwise history had stood still. With his sketch in hand I walked the banks of the river until I found the same view.

It was a quiet sunny day with locals and tourists checking their phones and shooting photos. I was humbled by the buildings immensity. I felt I was in the true heart of the city. I was in the exact same place one of my favorite artists had created about 50 years before. Construction on the cathedral was begun in 1160 and largely completed by 1260, though it was modified frequently in the following centuries. In 1858 some of the statues were damaged by Huguenots who considered them idolatrous. In 1793 after the French Revolution many of the art treasures were destroyed or plundered. 28 statues of biblical  kings were beheaded being mistaken for French kings.The cathedral became battered and ruined from neglect but Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame written in 1831,  brought a new interest to the structure. During the liberation of Paris in 1944 the building experienced some damage due to stray bullets. In 2016 there was a failed cathedral bombing attempt, and in 2017 four people were arrested on charged that they planned to travel to Paris and attack the cathedral.

None of these damages over the centuries compared to the horrible fire that engulfed the building starting about 6:50pm on April 15, 2019. It is believed it was caused by construction workers who were renovating the building. The fire possibly began in the bell tower. The fire caused the collapse of the spire and the roof. A small statue of a rooster on the top of the spire contained relics including a tiny piece of the crown of thorns which was acquired in 1239.

There is a water reservoir, covered with a lead roof, that is located between the two towers, behind the colonnade and the gallery and in front of the nave. It was designed to quickly extinguish a fire.  Many of the statues, including statues of the twelve apostles, were removed just last week to allow for construction, so that is some good news. A bucket brigade of people also passes relics to safety as the roof burned. Firefighters have saved the cathedral from total destruction. There are no confirmed deaths. The fire is being treated as an accident.

As news of the fire blazed into my studio via social media, I immediately started to alter the sketch I had created in 2012. I painted the fire and smoke darkened the scene. Seeing the cathedral towers on the western facade engulfed in smoke of course brought back memories of September 11 when the twin towers collapsed in New York City. Thankfully the firefighters saved the twin towers on Notre Dames Western facade. The interior was blackened yet a golden cross remained suspended above the damage. The full extent of the damage is being assessed.  The phoenix must now rise from the ashes.


Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at analogartistdigitalworld@gmail.com

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