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“Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle” by Jean-François Raffaëlli

Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle by Jean-François Raffaëlli

Flying Buttress and Spire of Notre Dame

“Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle” by Jean-François Raffaëlli depicts the eastern façade of Notre-Dame from across the Seine.

Raffaëlli shows the flying buttresses of the apse of Notre-Dame, the spire of the cathedral, and the towers on the west facade. Notre Dame was a popular and immediately recognizable subject for artists to paint.

Flying Buttress

The flying buttress was a vital innovation, before the buttresses, all the weight of the roof pressed out and down to the walls.

With the flying buttress, the weight was carried by the ribs of the vault outside the structure to a series of counter-supports.

The buttresses meant that the walls of Notre Dame could be higher and thinner, and could have much larger windows.

The first buttresses were installed sometime in the 13th century. Larger and stronger ones replaced the first buttresses in the 14th century; these had a reach of fifteen meters between the walls and counter-supports.

The Spire

Interest in the cathedral grew after the publication, in 1831, of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

The public interest led to a significant restoration project between 1844 and 1864, during which a taller and more ornate reconstruction of the original spire was added, as well as adding the sculpture of mythical creatures on the Galerie des Chimères.

The restoration lasted twenty-five years, and the Spire height was 91.44 meters (300.0 ft). The spire was surrounded by copper statues of the twelve Apostles, in four groups of three, one group at each point of the compass.

Each of the four groups was preceded by an animal symbolizing one of the four evangelists: a steer for Saint Luke, a lion for Saint Mark, an eagle for Saint John, and an angel for Saint Matthew.

While in place, they had faced outwards towards Paris, except for one. The statue of Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects, faced the spire and had the features of the head restorer from 1844.

The Towers

The two towers are sixty-nine meters high and were the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

The towers were the last major element of the cathedral to be constructed. The south tower was built first, between 1220 and 1240, and the north tower between 1235 and 1250.

The newer north tower is slightly larger, as is the buttress of the north tower, which is more extensive.

The north tower is accessible to visitors by a stairway. The stairway has 387 steps and has a stop at the Gothic hall at the level of the rose window. The ten bells of the cathedral are located in the south tower.

Jean-François Raffaëlli

Jean-François Raffaëlli (1850 – 1924) was a French realist painter, sculptor, and printmaker who exhibited with the Impressionists.

Degas invited Raffaëlli to take part in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1880 and 1881, an action that divided the group.

Monet was resentful of Degas’s insistence on expanding the Impressionist exhibitions by including several realists and chose not to exhibit.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris means “Our Lady of Paris” and is also known as Notre-Dame Cathedral or simply Notre-Dame. It is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris, France. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.

The innovative use of the rib vault and the flying buttress, the enormous and colorful rose windows, and the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration all set it apart from earlier Romanesque architecture.

The cathedral was begun in 1160 and mostly completed by 1260, though it was modified often in the following centuries.

In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the French Revolution when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. 

As the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, Notre-Dame is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris.  Today, Notre-Dame is the most visited monument in Paris, with over 12 million visitors yearly.

Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle

  • Title:                 Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle
  • Artist:               Jean-François Raffaëlli
  • Year:                1897/1902
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions      65 x 81.2 cm (25 9/16 x 31 15/16 in.)
  • Museum:          Cleveland Museum of Art

Jean-François Raffaëlli

  • Name:                 Jean-François Raffaëlli
  • Born:                   1850, Paris France
  • Died:                   1924, Paris France
  • Nationality:         French
  • Notable works:

The history of France’s Notre Dame Cathedral

Art historian weighs in on the future of the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame 

  • Notre Dame is 130 meters long, 48 meters wide, 35 meters high.
  • The rose windows have a diameter of 10 meters.
  • The cathedrals pillars have a diameter of 5 meters.
  • Notre Dame de Paris was built between 1163 and 1345.
  • The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses.
  • Notre Dame’s twin towers have 387 steps to climb.
  • The largest bell in Notre Dame is the Emmanuel Bell and was created in 1681.
  • The Emmanuel Bell is rung to mark the hours each day and on special occasions.
  • The Notre-Dame organ has almost 8000 pipes, some dating back to the 18th century, which is played with five keyboards.
  • The stained glass windows in Notre Dame are original to its construction in the 1200s.
  • In 1793, during the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob.
  • Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, was popular and significantly increased interest in the building.
  • The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia.
  • The cathedral may have been built over remnants of an ancient temple.
  • In 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during excavations.
  • The cathedral has one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, consisting of around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century.
  • Each beam in the cathedral wood-timber frame is made from an individual tree.
  • During the French Revolution, the cathedral was transformed in the late 18th century and rededicated to the Revolution’s new Cult of Reason.
  • During the French Revolution, all 20 of its bells, except for the colossal Emmanuel, were removed and melted down to make cannons.
  • Notre-Dame’s gargoyles or chimera, the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts, were added between 1843 and 1864 during a radical restoration.
  • Outside the Notre-Dame is a circular marker with a bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It is point zero, from which the distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France.

Notre Dame de Paris: the medieval cathedral and its 19th-century restoration

Explore the Cleveland Museum of Art

Standing the test of time: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris


“The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.”
– Oscar Hammerstein


Photo Credit: 1) Jean-François Raffaëlli [Public domain]

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