Saturday, September 22, 2018

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc as an Artist

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) was an architect who specialized in "restorations" of medieval buildings. On this blog we have already seen some of his architectural work at Carcassonne and Pierrefonds. But that is just a smidgen of his work. His most important project was probably restoring Notre Dame de Paris. The old gargoyles had practically dissolved under the assaults of Paris' coal-laden air, so Viollet-le-Duc designed new ones.

Yes, these famous brooding monsters are not medieval but spring from the neo-Gothic imagination of Viollet-le-Duc. And if nobody knows that, well, that is the way he wanted it; he saw himself as a restorer, not a creator, someone who made medieval buildings look the way they looked in their prime.

In the course of researching my post Carcassonne I saw a few of Viollet-le-Duc's drawings, and I was intrigued. Most of them look like this rendering of Albi Cathedral, not especially artistic because they are perfectly precise.

Or they focus in on small details, like this.

But some of Viollet-le-Duc's more formal compositions are quite impressive. Pierrefonds.

Mont St. Michel

Door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Nervy.

 And some of his architectural renderings have their own sort of beauty.

Viollet-le-Duc did numerous renderings of details from stained glass, like this head of St. Remi from Rheims.

In 1855 Viollet-le-Duc published a book he had written and illustrated, Annals of a Fortress, which told the history of a fortified place in southern France from ancient Celtic times to the Renaissance. If I remember correctly, it was besieged five times.

When I read them I thought David Macaulay's City and Castle were strikingly original, but now I know that Viollet-le-Duc did the same thing more than a century before Macaulay. Although of course as a man of the nineteenth century Viollet-le-Duc wrote a much, much longer text.

I don't know that Viollet-le-Duc was a great artist, but his drawings have give me much pleasure, and I plan to seek out more.

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