An exhibition highlights the restoration site of Notre-Dame de Paris

The cathedral of Our Lady continues to fascinate the general public. To pay tribute to this emblematic monument and its restoration, a major exhibition, called “Notre-Dame de Paris, from the builders to the restorers”, has been set up. Co-produced by the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine and by the public establishment responsible for the conservation and restoration of the structure, this installation reveals behind the scenes of the reconstruction of the monument and its history through the centuries. The curators Isabelle Marquette and Lisa Bergugnat wanted to install the exhibition within the permanent route of the Cité until April 29, 2024, the year during which the reopening of the building is planned.

Valuing know-how

On April 15, 2019, a violent fire devastated a large part of the cathedral. The tragedy caused such a shock that donors from all over the world mobilized to finance its restoration. In total, 845 million euros are collected. An extraordinary project is being set up under the responsibility of a dedicated public establishment, which plays the role of project owner. An identical restoration, respecting the original materials, was approved by the National Heritage and Architecture Commission in 2020.

Exhibition Notre-Dame de Paris city architecture
Models are presented in this exceptional exhibition. © LA Fournier

The restoration site of the building is particularly highlighted in this exhibition, and sheds light on the work of the companions and craftsmen in charge of working there. “The exhibition celebrates the builders of today and yesterday“, explains Philippe Jost, deputy director of the public establishment in charge of restructuring, during a press visit. “Passion and know-how are mobilized in this extraordinary project.“Indeed, the transmission of skills is illustrated in photos and videos. Large scale models of archive documents complete this set.

Zoom on the frame

The materials and methods used to give a second life to the building following the fire are exposed. Lead elements from the roof, charred wood from the frame and stones from the transept crossing are among the pieces unveiled behind the museum’s display cases.

The work of rebuilding the framework is symbolized by a few logs, at different stages of squaring, rough-hewn axes and doloires specially designed for the site. “Two thousand oaks are cut in France to make the blend. The last was shot in Orne last week“, says Isabelle Marquette, co-curator of the exhibition. It is the Ateliers Perrault and the Atelier Desmonts who are responsible for restoring the framework. For this, they use tools and techniques from medieval times.

Exhibition Notre-Dame de Paris city architecture
Logs are on display at the City of Architecture and Heritage. © David Bordes

A few meters further, visitors can discover some pipes of the great organ. The latter has a total of 8,000, which must be cleaned by three workshops of organ builders in France. The instrument will be reassembled in 2024.

A large collection of architectural and decorative elements

The impressive collection of works from the building will also appeal to visitors. Monumental sculptures, paintings and stained glass come together in the moldings gallery. “I’architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who won the Notre-Dame restoration competition in the 19th century, breathed a neo-Gothic spirit into the cathedral. In particular, he imported 16 sculptures made of hammered copper sheets, made between 1858 and 1861. A way of giving both hegemony and originality to the monument“, says Isabelle Marquette. As for the stained glass, dirty, they must be cleaned.

Exhibition Notre-Dame de Paris city architecture
Part of the exhibition is devoted to the spire of Notre-Dame. © LA Fournier

The commissioners took care to display models and drawings, in particular that of the spire project. “It was more complicated to bring back, due to their volume, certain elements of the construction site, such as the stones and the frame.“, concedes the commissioner. “We aspire, through this installation, to show how this site, certainly exceptional, represents a very small part of the history of Notre-Dame.

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