22 of the cathedral’s 25 paintings, including 13 Mays, were restored in October 2021 for 2 years. This fundamental and exceptional operation is carried out by the Conservation régionales des monuments historiques (CRMH) of the DRAC Île-de-France, with the support of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF), the Louvre Museum and the City of Paris Conservation of Religious and Civil Art (COARC). These paintings, which suffered no damage following the April 2019 fire, will be ready in late 2023 to find their place in the cathedral in 2024.
Of tableaof great masters, imbued with tradition and odyssey
Works dating from the XVIIe and XVIIIe These paintings, commissioned by the most illustrious painters, testify to the artistic quality of religious painting in France at that time. Thirteen Mays are always presented in the cathedral.
From 1630 until 1707, the brotherhood of the Parisian Goldsmiths offered annually to the 1er may be a large painting made by a renowned artist representing a subject from the Acts of the Apostles. The month of May was then written “may”, which gave the name of the Mays of Notre-Dame. At the beginning of the XVIIIe The choir of the cathedral was refurbished by Louis XIV to honour the wishes of his father Louis XIII. The church was built by Louis XIV. To decorate this new choir, the best painters of the time made eight large paintings illustrating the Life of the Virgin.
Of the 76 Mays offered, 13 were still presented in the cathedral in 2019.
During the French Revolution, paintings were deposited in the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles or scattered throughout France. 52 Mays are currently located. In 1821, 21 Mays found the cathedral. In 1844, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc began the first restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris: the paintings were sent to the Louvre, only four Mays remained in the cathedral. The return of the Mays and other paintings to Notre-Dame was due to the stubbornness of Pierre-Marie Auzas, inspector of historical monuments, in 1943.
The 25 works of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, in addition to being paintings of great masters, are for the most part large paintings up to 4.5 m high and 3.5 m wide.
- 7 tables are deposits of the Louvre Museum
- 3 tables are deposits of the city of Paris
- 15 tables fall under the DRAC Île-de-France
Presentation of the paintings of Notre-Dame de Paris
Of incendie à la restauration : two years of preparation
Total cost of the restoration and conservation operation
As of April 15, 2019, 2 paintings are evacuated to the Louvre Museum, The Nativity of the Virgin of the brothers Le Nain and The Virgin of Mercy lubin baugin. On April 16, 2019, 3 small paintings hung in the treasure are evacuated to the Louvre Museum that represent the Canon of La Porte, Canon Guillot and Cardinal de Noailles. These works are in good condition and do not require restoration.
Professional societies have been requisitioned to evacuate the works and store them in temporary places that can accommodate such formats.
On April 19, 2019, 15 other paintings were released, those of Baugin, Blanchard, Bourdon, Chéron, Élias, Francken, La Hyre, Le Brun, Loir, Poërson, Testelin, Vien and Vouet. 3 paintings by Carrache, Jeaurat and Van Loo leave the cathedral on April 24. Finally, the last 2 works, by Reni and La Hyre, which are difficult to access, are evacuated in August 2020. All the paintings were dusted face and back and each benefited from a state finding. The Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF) supported the DRAC in organizing the evacuation and conservation of the paintings. In particular, it has implemented dust removal operations (face and reverse) and detailed state assessments carried out by restaurateurs.
In the summer of 2020, the DRAC, in partnership with the C2RMF, launched a call for tenders to find, in Île-de-France, a unique location for the storage of tables. Facilities specially arranged for the restoration operation are created in Essonne, with a space for the treatments of canvas and frame supports, a space for the treatments of the pictorial layer and a reserve. These spaces meet conditions of security and conservation adapted to the nature of these works.
This project stems from a desire of the DRAC to allow its teams and partners to supervise the site on the one hand, and to offer an optimal working environment to restaurateurs on the other. The paintings were transported to the restoration site in December 2020 and the restoration workshops were completed in March 2021.
It takes 8 to 10 people to handle the larger paintings.
A restoration exceptional, thorough and scientific
It is the first and largest simultaneous restoration of large format paintings in France
This fundamental operation is made necessary by the natural ageing of the materials and not because of the fire, which fortunately did not damage the paintings. The ancient restoration techniques allowed a good conservation of the works in time. The restoration campaign, unprecedented in its scope, must last two years, so that the paintings can find the cathedral for its reopening in 2024.
The dirt deposited on the works is explained by the passage of time, increased by the comings and goings of visitors. The paintings showed for some a peeling of the canvas of rentoilage, a yellowing of the varnishes and a modification of the colors of the old pictorial retouches. The DRAC regularly maintained these works by dusting several times, and had recently restored a canvas (L'Assomption by Jean Jouvenet, 1716, Height: 4.32 m; Width: 4.41 m).
The restoration of the paintings is carried out in 4 stages in workshops designed specifically, this one completed, the paintings are reassembled with their frame and stored in the reserve waiting to be hung up in the cathedral of Notre-Lady of Paris, when conditions permit. At the end of this review, restoration tests are carried out on the tables, and a scientific commission meets to validate the proposed intervention. The works then enter the stages of restoration proper.
From the deposit to the ongoing restoration of the exceptional set of 22 paintings of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the CRMH of the DRAC Île-de-France, pilot of operations, was able to draw on the expertise of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF), reference service of the Ministry of Culture.
Facilities at the height of this exceptional site
In order to allow the simultaneous restoration of the tables, the DRAC decided to carry out the operation in a unique place allowing to accommodate these large formats. A unique site, made available by Bovis Fine Art, located in the south of the Île-de-France was chosen. Construction work of only 6 weeks was necessary to design sites in accordance with the expectations of the DRAC and allowing conditions of conservation and safety.
1,630 square metres
The surface of installations specially designed for this operation
A restoration that restores all its brilliance to the works of Notre-Dame de Paris
Here is an example of the complete restoration of one of the 22 paintings, the work of Nicolas LOIR, Saint Paul blinding the false prophet Bargeus, dated 1650.
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Discover the press kit of the operation
In a story aired on the news at 8 pm on December 25, 2021, France 2 followed the start of this spectacular restoration.
Le Parisien continues to cover this extraordinary project in a subject available since March 2, 2022.
TF1 looks back on this exceptional operation in a report broadcast on the 1 pm news on April 14, 2022.
France 24 broadcasts the operation internationally in a report on September 8, 2022
France culture talks with restaurant owners
Read the article Notre-Dame de Paris: active restoration of monumental paintings