Historic Paintings Miraculously Saved From Notre-Dame Fire Are Now Back on Display

“Mays” Paintings From Notre Dame on Display After Fire Restoration

Notre Dame burns in 2019. (Photo: Wandrille de Préville via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

When Notre-Dame caught fire in 2019, millions of eyes watched, riveted in France and around the world. The devastating fire destroyed much of the roof and spires, and also severely damaging the priceless works of art within the church. The time since has revealed how medieval and modern can work together to rebuild. Building on traditional techniques used to create the cathedral, modern architects and conservators have fought to recreate and preserve. Thankfully, many of Notre-Dame's treasures were eventually saved from the building, either during the fire or afterwards. Among these were famous paintings belonging to what is known as the Mays, a series if religious paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. These 13 works have now been conserved and will be displayed at the Mobilier National through July 2024.

These paintings are 13 held in Notre-Dame collections, but they are part of a larger series created between 1630 and 1707 and now held in multiple collections. They feature Christian scenes. The term “Mays” comes from the May deadline of the yearly contest hosted by the Confrérie des Orfèvres to honor the Virgin Mary. The politico-religious background is more complex. The paintings highlighted the Catholic victory in France's prior religious wars. While once all belonging to Notre-Dame, many paintings moved elsewhere during the French Revolution. Those remaining were removed in the 19th century during redecoration, and replaced in the cathedral in the early 20th century.

Emmanuel Pénicaut, director of Mobilier National who restored the paintings, told The Guardian, “We were lucky to get them out quite quickly with just a little water damage and dust. It was rather miraculous. We began removing them the day after the fire and decided they would all be restored. The exhibition is a chance to see them all in one place, in the order they were painted, which is how they would have been originally displayed. What you see now is how they would have looked the day they were completed.”

The works will be displayed in an exhibit entitled Notre-Dame's Restored Masterpieces, a unique opportunity to see them restored and exhibited outside the cathedral. They will return to their true home in advance of the planned December grand reopening of Notre-Dame to the public.

The Notre-Dame fire in 2019 ravaged the cathedral, destroying parts of its architecture and the art it housed.

“Mays” Paintings From Notre Dame on Display After Fire Restoration

Inside the magnificent cathedral before the fire. (Photo: Peter K Burian via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Luckily, some paintings were saved and restored, and now they are back on display in an exhibit titled Notre-Dame's Restored Masterpieces.

“Mays” Paintings From Notre Dame on Display After Fire Restoration

Jacques Blanchard, “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” 1634. Currently in the collection of Notre-Dame. This image prior to restoration. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

“Mays” Paintings From Notre Dame on Display After Fire Restoration

Charles Poerson, “The Preaching of St. Peter in Jerusalem,” 1642. Currently in the Notre-Dame collections. This image prior to restoration. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

h/t: [The Guardian]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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