From James V’s marriage and Napoleon’s coronation, to World War II celebrations and memorials for terror attack victims — Notre Dame has watched silently over them all.
The cathedral’s role in some of French history’s defining moments speaks to its place in the country’s national imagination. It also means that, over the centuries, its striking gothic form has been widely depicted in paintings, etchings and, more recently, photographs.
Some of the grandest depictions of Notre Dame date from the 18th and 19th centuries, as artists recounted great moments from history in rich detail.
One of the best-known paintings of Notre Dame is Jacques-Louis David’s depiction of Napoleon’s coronation as emperor, an event the artist personally attended in 1804. Credit: Heritage Images/Getty Images
One of the best-known is Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Napoleon’s coronation as emperor, an event the artist personally attended in 1804. As well as depicting a cast of important characters, including members of the Bonaparte family, the artwork reveals the interior styling of the cathedral at the time.
Progressing to the mid-1800s, the genesis of paper photography, and images show Notre Dame — then the tallest building in view — towering over the French capital. These early photos also show the cathedral, as it is today, without a spire (the one that collapsed Monday night was only erected during a sweeping 19th century restoration).
Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist, performs an authorized tightrope walk between Notre Dam’s bell towers in 1971. Credit: Cardenas/AP
The spread of cameras and the emergence of picture agencies mean that many of the cathedral’s most iconic moments since have been documented: Charles de Gaulle marching to Notre Dame after the liberation of Paris in 1944, a tightrope walker balancing between the two bell towers in 1971 and the visits of foreign dignitaries, from Dwight Eisenhower to Pope Benedict XVI.
And in the age of digital photography, depictions of the 850-year-old structure have, unsurprisingly, exploded in number. To date, more than 2.5 million Instagram images have been posted with the hashtag #notredame.
Pope Benedict XVI meets worshipers following an evening prayer service at Notre Dame Cathedral on September 12, 2008. Credit: Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, the lasting image from our present era will be that of the wooden roof and spire engulfed in flames. But photographs from Monday will, eventually, form just another chapter in the cathedral’s evolving visual history.
Scroll through the gallery above to see images of Notre Dame Cathedral.