NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
On the 6th April, 2018, I visited Notre Dame Cathedral to view the medieval glass. I had been inspired to go to Paris, partly, by the fragments of 13th –15th century glass that I had occasionally seen in my visits to English churches (see, In Search of Medieval Inspiration, on this website). Unfortunately, the cathedral was very busy, with a queue to get in and packed with people once in. I managed to take some photographs of the remarkable windows and glass, which must have been truly jaw-dropping for a pilgrim who lived a rustic life – it’s jaw-dropping today too!
The North Rose Window, 12.9m in diameter, in the Gothic Rayonnant style (mid 13th century)
A fine example of momento mori, with death (a hooded skeleton) in the background
Although part of a memorial for the dead, the statue of the skeleton (pictured above) was more a warning to the living. The medieval period, especially following the Black Death, saw a transformation in the arts, and one would be pushed to find any tombs or churches that didn’t feature a skeleton (the personification of death) of some kind. The theme infiltrated literature as well, and Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death become a popular artistic genre of allegory. The Danse Macabre tells of death summoning individuals in society who varied in their wealth, often including a King, a Pope and a laborer.
An example of a Danse Macabre scene c. 1495
Momento mori pieces such as this were used as a tool to instal fear into the population and to remind everyone of the fragility of life and the unimportance of worldly riches. Art such as this informs my practice regularly, as it reminds me of how powerful a tool fine art can be. Although sculptures such as these (see above) can be imposing, often paintings can muster similar feelings of despair.