Construction on this façade began under bishop Eudes de Sully starting in 1200, by the third architect and was continued by his successors, in particular Guillaume d’Auvergne, and after 1220 by the fourth architect. The North Tower was completed in
1240 and the South tower was completed in 1250.
The façade is an imposing, simple and harmonious mass whose strength and sombre grandeur is based on interplay between vertical and horizontal lines: four powerful buttresses that spring up to the top of the towers, lifting them heavenwards. They symbolically let us know that this cathedral-church was built for God.
two wide horizontal strips seem to bring the building back down to our mortal earth. This cathedral-church is also a cathedral for men.
Its dimensions are impressive:
41 m wide
43 m high up to the base of the towers
63 m up to the top of the towers
This façade’s simplicity and harmony has fascinated modern art historians and contemporary architects. Marcel Aubert wrote that it was “one of the Middle Ages’ most famous, a masterpiece of composition and execution,” and Le Corbusier would call it a “pure creation of the spirit”. He thought that the determining surface is governed by the circle and the square, which explains its geometric purity.
A look at its symbolism could help us understand the meaning of the façade:
the square stands for created, limited space.
the circle stands for the boundless, the perfect figure without beginning or end, the image of God. God’s world breaking into the created world, God
becoming man. That is the mystery of the Incarnation. The heads of the Virgin and Jesus fall directly into the centre of the West rose window. Mary’s acceptance allowed God, as Jesus, to come into the mortal world, and Mary presents her Son to the city.
At the centre of the façade, near the gallery of the Virgin, a large rose measuring 9.60 m in diameter which was created around 1225, stands at the centre of the façade, forming a halo above a statue of the Virgin with Child between two angels. On the right and the left, there are statues of Adam and Eve, which remind us of original sin. These statues were rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century.
Under the balustrade, there is a wide horizontal frieze, the gallery of kings, a row of twenty-eight statues representing twenty-eight generations of kings of Judah, descendants of Jesse and human ancestors of Mary and Jesus. This part of the façade shows that Mary, a mortal woman born of the human race, gave birth to Jesus, who was both man and God. These painted statues were added to the cathedral in the first third of the 13th century and quickly became familiar representations of the kings of France. From 1284 onwards, they were presented in this way. And this tradition would be perpetuated throughout the centuries. This is why, during the troubled time of the Revolution, these statues would be attacked and mutilated as symbols of royal despotism.
In 1843, when Viollet-Le-Duc and Lassus were named architects in charge of the Notre-Dame project, none of these statues remained. Viollet-Le-Duc decided to restore these statues we can view today, with the help of Geoffroi-Dechaume’s workshop.
In 1977, during work in Paris’s Chaussée d’Antin district, 143 fragments of Notre-Dame’s royal statues were rediscovered.
They are currently on display at the Musée de Cluny.
On the lower level, under the gallery of kings, there are three large portals which are not exactly identical.The central portal, known as the Portal of the Last Judgement, is taller and wider than the others, the Portal of Saint Anne (to the right, or the south) and the Portal of the Virgin (to the left and the North). The latter portal is topped by a triangular gable*. These portals are decorated with a multitude of characters and surrounded by the jambs* featuring large statues which were restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc.
The buttresses feature niches that house four statues restored by Viollet-le-Duc’s workshop. The left (North) buttress depicts the deacon Saint Stephen, the right (South) buttress shows a bishop, most likely Saint Denis, and the buttresses on the sides of the central portal portray two allegories, the Synagogue on the right and the Church on the left.
This façade springs directly up from the ground, serving as a masterpiece of balance and harmony.
Construction on this façade began under bishop Eudes de Sully starting in 1200, by the third architect and was continued by his successors, in particular Guillaume d’Auvergne, and after 1220 by the fourth architect. The North Tower was completed in 1240 and the South tower was completed in 1250.