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Le Carnet de France: Paris, Cité de l’Architecture

By Martine P. Dulles


Left to right: St. James the Greater, St. Jude and St. Philip in storage before restoration. Images courtesy of the author.


Some of you may recall the first article I wrote for the Mercury entitled “Incroyable mais vrai” (October 2019) about our visit at the Atelier Socra, near Périgueux in the southwest of France, where the apostles from Notre-Dame de Paris were being restored.


Very fortunately, just four days before the horrible fire in the Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019, the Atelier Socra had taken down the statues of the twelve apostles and the symbols of the four evangelists (the angel for Saint Matthew, the lion for Saint Mark, the ox for Saint Luke and the eagle for Saint John), which were all on the roof around the tall central spire, as well as the iconic rooster that was at the top of the spire and that contained three precious relics. Those sculptures were designed by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) as part of his renovation of Notre-Dame, the plaster models were made by Adolphe Geoffroy-Dechaume (1816-1892) and the final copper statues were produced by the Atelier Monduit in Paris. They were placed on the roof of the cathedral in 1861.


So far, all of the statues of the apostles have been restored except for one: Saint Thomas, the patron of architects, whose facial features resemble Viollet-le-Duc. Saint Thomas is still being worked on at the atelier. The rooster, however, will not be restored, but it will be replaced by a new one.


The great news is that one can admire the statues at the Cité de l’Architecture and du Patrimoine at the Place du Trocadéro opposite the Eiffel Tower. They will remain there until Notre-Dame is completely restored, when they will be put back on the roof. The objective is 2024, when the Paris Olympic Games should take place, but that remains to be seen. The government recently decided to rebuild the spire on the cathedral exactly the way Viollet-le-Duc designed it.


At the Cité de l’Architecture, the label next to Saint Bartholomew’s statue describes the restoration: “The internal structure has been deep-cleaned and strengthened. The copper leaf has been cleaned, deoxidized and patined to be brought back to its original color, as can be seen in old photographs.” As you can see in my photos, during their first 150 years, the outside of the statues had become green. Now after restoration, they are black, as they originally were in the 19th century.


Left: In front, St. Simon; behind, St. Bartholomew. Right: The statue of St. Peter in the stunning interior of the Cité de l’Architecture.


The Cité de l’Architecture is located on the Chaillot hill on the right bank of the Seine River, opposite and overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-de-Mars. Starting in the Middle Ages, at that spot there was the village of Chaillot, which was a chic suburb of Paris. The village was absorbed into the city of Paris in 1659, and it is still chic! In 1878, for the Paris World’s Fair, the Palais du Trocadéro was built and named in honor of the French victory at the Fort of Trocadéro near Cádiz, Spain, in 1823.


In 1882, the Museum of Comparative Sculptures was created inside the palace. Viollet-le-Duc had the brilliant idea to have plaster casts made of the doorways of major French cathedrals and churches such as the Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Vézelay, the Cathedral Saint-Lazare in Autun, the Abbey of Saint-Foy in Conques and many others.


However, in 1937, for the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, the Palais du Trocadéro was destroyed and replaced by the present building named Palais de Chaillot. There are two wings, one housing the Musée National de la Marine (the Naval Museum, presently closed for renovation) and the Musée de l’Homme (Ethnology), and the other housing the Cité de l’Architecture.


On the ground floor, the permanent collection is exhibited, and that is where you can see the doorway casts as well as numerous statues from Roman art, Gothic art and Renaissance art from the 11th to the 19th century. On the second level, the history of the architecture of Paris from 1850 to today is presented with models, plans, photographs, films and many documents. On the same level is the Gallery of Mural Paintings from the 11th to the 16th century. On this level is also the space for temporary exhibits. Right now, and until September 19, there is an exhibit dedicated to the Swiss architect Jean Tschumi (1904-1962), who designed, among others, the building for the Nestlé headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1960.


If you are interested in religious architecture and architecture in general, I can highly recommend that you visit this museum, which I consider a jewel. It is not very “popular” and therefore it is never too crowded and you can really admire the objects.


Last but not least in the museum, the restaurant, Girafe, is of high quality and is placed on a wonderful terrace looking at the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-de-Mars.


Within walking distance from the Palais de Chaillot, you have three other very interesting museums — first, the Musée Guimet, which exhibits the largest collection of Asian art outside Asia. From July 7 to September 20, an exhibit on Asian gardens will be shown. Further down the avenue is the Palais Galleria (see the article in the Mercury, November 2020) where the Chanel exhibit will be presented until July 18, 2021. A restaurant named “Les Petites Mains” just opened, located in the beautiful garden. Across the avenue is the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris (MAM).


Should you be planning a trip to France, remember that it is now necessary to reserve an entrance time in advance of your visits to museums.


Martine P. Dulles lives in France. Martine was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston for many years. She now organizes bespoke tours in France and is a translator for cultural material. You can reach her at mpd@dullesdeleu.com.

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