Cathedral for art and history

Shrine for the Crown of Thorns designed by Viollet-le-Duc

Gilded bronze, gilded silver, diamonds, precious gemstones 1862
- Height: 88 cm,
- width: 49 cm

Created, based on Viollet-le-Duc’s drawings, by goldsmith Placide Poussielgue-Rusand. Geoffroy-Dechaume participated in sculpting the figures, Villemot sculpted the decorations, and Bastié, Poussielgue’s workshop master, assisted in goldwork.

It was most likely at the end of restoration work on Notre-Dame’s sacristies and Treasury, in the late 1850s, that a new reliquary was built for the Crown of Thorns, which had been kept in the 1806 reliquary and shrine made by the goldsmith Charles Cahier.

This subject was discussed in the Chapter’s archives (vol. VIII, 26 February 1589), which state that during Lent 1859, the archbishop at the time, Cardinal Morlot, announced to the believers that the most skilful artists were actively working on crafting a reliquary. Cardinal Morlot called upon the parishioners’ generosity to help decorate the reliquary through an offering of precious gemstones.

Viollet-le-Duc drew inspiration from the medieval reliquary style as seen in miniatures representing the inside of Sainte Chapelle: a crown decorated with fleurs de lys. As his sketches show, there were several possible solutions for supporting this crown:
- kneeling angels (drawing at the Musée d’Orsay);
- Saint Louis, Sainte Helen and King Baldwin, standing (drawing at the Agence des travaux de Notre-Dame);
- Saint Louis, Saint Helen and King Baldwin, seated on a throne, back to the crown, which was selected for the reliquary;

JPG - 107.1 kb
Le roi Saint Louis tenant la Sainte Couronne d’épines
© NDP

There are nine chimeras supporting the first tray, which is decorated with filigree flourishes and precious gemstones. Saint Helen holding the cross, King Baldwin II, Emperor of Constantinople, with his sceptre and globe in hand, and Saint Louis holding the Crown of Thorns in his hands, seated on thrones with lion-headed armrests, head forward, showing hieratic attitudes. A small platform and a bow decorated with foliage support the circular monstrance, which shows alternating trilobe openwork arcatures and niches where the twelve apostles are nestled under small turret canopies. Finally, the reliquary is topped with tall fleurs de lys decorated with flourishes and precious gemstones. The entire upper part rests on a central column and on the thrones’ posts. This monstrance houses the circular reliquary that encases the Crown of Thorns.

Sixty years and a striking difference in style separate this piece and its counterpart, which was created under Napoleon I for the same distinguished relic: the neo-gothic style succeeded the neo-classical style to honour “our national architecture.” (P.M. Auzas)

The artists’ signatures can be seen on the base of the central column: E. VIOLLET LEDUC / INVENIT / P. POUSSIELGUE-RUSAND / FABRICAVIT / 1862

The edges of the tray, around the thrones, there is the following engraving: AN.M.DCCCLXII FABRE FACTUM. CONDENDIS + PASSIONIS X. SACRIS. LIPSANIS. A. REGE. S. LUDOVICO + SANCTAE. PALATI. CAPELLAE INLATIS. AN. MCCXXXIX.

The maker’s stamps are on the edge of the base: PPR (Placide Poussielgue-Rusand), a cross, a crossed anchor and a heart

According to Anne Dion-Tenenbaum’s article in the catalogue for the exhibition “Le trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle”, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2001, p.279

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