Despite the loss of its great medieval roof, preliminary surveys suggest that none of the thirteenth-century glass in the three great rose windows of Notre Dame Cathedral has suffered irreparable damage following the terrible fire in Paris on April 15th.
The first of these windows was made c. 1220. It is the west facade and shows the Virgin in Glory surrounded by twelve Prophets, the Signs of the Zodiac, the Labours of the Month and the Vices and Virtues. Although only a few of the original thirteenth-century panels have survived, it is regarded as an important expression of the emerging Gothic style in Paris.
The second rose window is in the north transept. It was built 1250-55 and shares the same iconographical programme as the north rose window at Chartres Cathedral. A central figure of the Virgin is surrounded by ninety-six Old Testament figures: prophets in the inner circle, judges and kings in the second, other kings and high priests in the outer trefoils.
The third window is in the south transept and dates to c. 1260. The splendid glazing scheme, although somewhat rearranged and with additions from other windows, centres on the triumphant Christ in Heaven, surrounded by those who were his witnesses on earth: the twelve apostles, saints and martyrs beloved to France, as well as scenes from the Old and New Testaments. [Fig. 1]
Up to eight glazing workshops have been removing glass from the Cathedral since the fire. This is being done under the supervision of the French Ministry of Culture and includes the nineteenth-century nave and choir windows. Thereafter the LRMH (Laboratoire des Monuments historiques) will be responsible for assessing the condition of the glass and any repair/conservation treatment it requires. Scholars from the French Committee of the CVMA are already assisting the project.
As readers will know, in the immediate aftermath of the fire Emmanuel Macron, the President of the French Republic, set a deadline of five years for the rebuilding of the Cathedral and, by implication, the removal, conservation and reinstallation of its famous glass.
At the beginning of May, however, the French newspaper, Le Figaro, published an open letter to the President Macron signed by over 1,100 architecture, art and heritage experts urging caution rather than haste. Signatories included the president of the association of heritage architects Rémi Desalbres, the general administrator of the Louvre museum Wanda Diebolt and Philippe de Montebello, a former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“Let us take the time to find the right path and then, yes, set an ambitious deadline for an exemplary restoration,” said the letter. “But let us not erase the complexity of the thought that must surround this site behind a display of efficiency.”
Some experts have argued that the project could take up to ten years.