6:00 PM–7:30 PM Maison Française East Gallery, Buell Hall
To RSVP, please click here. The April 2019 fire that nearly destroyed the Cathedral of Notre-Dame revived a polemic with resonance well beyond France. Should the edifice be reconstructed “as it was” or is the very idea of Gothic “authenticity” questionable – and should the extent and nature of restoration be open to discussion? This talk proposes to leave aside Notre Dame as lieu de mémoire and focuses on it as a material object within a historical context. The cathedral was partially ruined before the Revolution which then of course proceeded to desacralize it in 1793 as a Temple of Reason. By the time Victor Hugo wrote about Notre Dame, in 1831, he described a pillaged and vandalized near-shell of a structure. The sumptuous stained-glass windows are nineteenth-century approximations of thirteenth-century originals (with a few medieval shards of glass here and there). Materially, the most authentic loss appears to be the forest of medieval oak beams in the "attic" that was tinder to the blaze. In other words, the one part of the cathedral that has been lost for good was completely inaccessible to the public. In sum, more of the nineteenth-century architect Viollet-le-Duc's work than that which the twelfth-century artisan of French medieval architecture Abbé Suger inspired has disappeared. This talk will review a few of the controversies over its rebuilding within the context of the edifice’s first fall and resurrection in the age of revolution.
Allan Potofsky (PhD, Columbia, Department of History) is professor of Atlantic and French history at the Université Paris Diderot, specializing in Parisian urban history during the modern period and the French Revolution. He is the author of Constructing Paris in the Age of Revolutions (Palgrave, 2009 & 2012) and has edited two collections of articles (for French History, in collaboration with Trevor Burnard, and The History of European Ideas). He recently published articles on the environmental history of early modern Paris, the historical legacy of the Paris of Louis XIV, and the investment of slave wealth in urban property during the French Revolution. His current book project, "Paris is the World:" Paris as Babylon, Paris as the New Rome, 17th and 18th centuries, focuses on the French capital as a social and economic hinterland of early globalization.