The question of the decoration of the walls of Notre-Dame de Paris in the Middle Ages has been relaunched, since the very recent discovery of ancient polychromy, inside the emblematic cathedral of the capital.
“We know that the cathedral was painted on the outside like any Gothic cathedral, but Viollet-le-Duc believed that it was also made to be painted on the inside. Maybe we have proof of what he was saying,” said Jonathan Truillet. The cross on December 21, 2020.
The chief heritage curator returns to the discovery of traces of old polychromy, discovered during the cleaning of the stone just before the entrance to the Notre-Dame-de-Guadalupe chapel, located on the north side of the building: ” there are blues, reds, ochres… Fleurs de Lys with a little gilding and others whose traces are preserved in negative”, specifies Jonathan Truillet.
Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) had mentioned the presence of many traces of medieval polychromy on the exterior facade of Notre-Dame de Paris: in his Dictionnaire raisonné, he presents them as partial coloring. But the architect never mentioned a possible interior decoration.
However, one should not imagine extremely rich decorations, such as those made by Viollet-le-Duc during the restoration of Notre-Dame in the 19th century: “on the contrary, medieval polychromy endeavored to highlight the masonry in accentuating its regularity, both formal and chromatic”. . On the other hand, the polychromy represents a protective layer for the stone”, explains Anne Vuillemard-Jenn.
The art historian explains that the colors chosen depend on the choice of stone: “In Chartres, a yellow ocher is placed on a light limestone. In Strasbourg, a red ocher on red sandstone.
Moreover, if in the large naves the polychromy is more discreet, above all accentuating the architectural lines and the effect of verticality, “the highly ornamented decorations are generally limited to small spaces, such as the radiating chapels”, specifies Anne Vuillemard-Jenn .
In the end, thanks to the restoration work undertaken after the catastrophic fire of April 15, 2019, it should be possible to better understand the interior decoration of religious buildings in the great century of cathedrals: “most of the time, it is during a restoration project that we discover the polychromes”, confirms the historian. Because it is true that sometimes the devil carries the stone.