The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

The Heads of the Kings of Judah

Têtes de rois (Musée de Cluny) (8951012424)

The west facade of Notre-Dame de Paris was adorned with 28 kings of Judah. Unfortunately their heads were decapitated from statues on the Notre Dame facade in 1793 during the French Revolution. In  1977, 21 of those 28 heads were unearthed and are now on display in the Cluny Museum’s Notre Dame room along with other fragments from the cathedral’s portals.

In 1793, the same month that Marie Antoinette was beheaded, a Paris mob collected in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and cried for the heads of more kings. The sculptured figures,  dating back to the year 1230, above the portals  of the Cathedral represented the kings of Judea but the mob, thinking they were French kings, tied rope around the statues pulled them down and guillotined them in square in front of the Cathedral. Some of the revolutionaries believed Louis XVI descended from the Kings of Judah. The statues were replaced in the early 19th century, but the original sculptures disappeared.

Over 200 years after the kings were decapitated and their heads had disappeared, workmen working at a bank building site discovered 21 of  the 0.70m tall heads plus over 300 other statuary fragments were found buried within a wall of plaster three feet below the courtyard.

Head of a king of Judah MNMA Cl. 23002

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     The Heads of the Kings of Judah
  • Date:                      1230
  • Destroyed:            1793
  • Rediscovered:      1977
  • Material:               Limestone
  • Museum:               Musée National du Moyen Age

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“To taste the sweet, you must taste the bitter.” French Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Têtes de rois (Musée de Cluny)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons