IHBC’s ‘IMHO spotlight’ on Viollet-le-Duc at Notre Dame: ‘Sins of the Flèche’, from Paul Velluet and the Church Times

websiteArchitect Paul Velluet has had his take on the matter of Notre Dame, past and future, published in a letter to the Church Times, and here offers NewsBlog readers the original text defending Viollet le Duc’s work there, sparklingly headlined by the Church Times as ‘Sins of the Flèche’.

image: Notre Dame de Paris website

Paul Velluet writes to the Church Times:

Dear Sir…. Your front-page photo of the fall of the burning flèche above the central crossing of the  Cathedral of Notre Dame and the reports by Adam Beckett and Hattie Williams on last week’s disastrous fire in Paris carried in last Friday’s Church Times were sufficiently distressing without having to read Nicholas Cranfield’s wholly unjustified and unhelpful comments on the work Eugene Viollet-le-Duc – the architect of the extraordinarily beautiful fleche that until last week graced the roof-line of the Cathedral and the Ile de la Cite since ca 1860 – particularly in views from the north-east, east and south-east.

Importantly, the greater part of the works of repair and reinstatement carried out at Notre Dame between 1844 and 1864 by le Duc (as Inspector-General of Historical Monuments appointed by Prosper Merimee) and his colleague Jean-Baptiste Lassus (until 1857) served to recover long-lost features of the mediaeval cathedral, such as the central fleche – removed due to its poor condition between 1786 and 1792 – and the many external stone-carvings vandalised as part of the less palatable excesses of the Revolution fifty years before.

I suspect that for Parisians and visitors to Paris alike, the loss of le Duc’s 45-metre high, oak-framed fleche – will be as much a source of sadness as that of the loss of the early-to-mid-13th century oak roof-carpentry above the nave and choir – ‘La Foret’, the mid-19th century, oak roof-carpentry above the transepts, and significant sections of the late-12th century, stone-vaulting above the nave.

Like our own George Gilbert Scott, Viollet-le-Duc’s approach to the repair and reinstatement of historic cathedrals and churches in the middle years of the 19th century may not align with today’s mainstream conservation values and principles, despite the unrivalled knowledge of mediaeval architecture which both possessed.  However, le Duc’s work should not be dismissed so glibly as your Arts Correspondent did last week.  Instead, it needs to be understood and appreciated with full regard to the cultural context in which he and his clients lived and worked.

In this connection, Cranfield’s patronising comments about creating ‘a mock-mediaeval building for romantic tourists on the Hunchback trail’ should be firmly rejected.  Instead, it is to be hoped that the French Government, Le Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the Church and other agencies will work together to secure the repair and re-opening of the Cathedral at the earliest opportunity, recognising and respecting the architectural and historic significance of all that which has been lost or damaged in the fire, and incorporating the finest of both traditional and 21st century techniques and materials.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Velluet, Chartered Architect.
Member, L’Union Franco-Britannique des Architectes

(Regional Architect, English Heritage – London, 1994-2004; and Member of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, 2005 to 2010).

P.S.  Photographs of the extensive roof-carpentry of the roofs above the nave, choir and transepts – ‘La Foret’ – and the oak framework of the fleche before the fire, may be seen on http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/ under ‘The Cathedral’, ‘Architecture’, ‘The Frame’ (sic) and ‘The Arrow’ (sic).

See the published text at the Church Times

See more NewsBlogs on Notre Dame

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