September 17 – Viollet-Le-Duc

September 14, 2023

Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

Viollet-Le-Duc, Eugène-emmanuel, architect, archeologist, and author, b. in Paris, January 27, 1814; d. at Lausanne, September 17, 1879. He gained a high reputation by his intelligent comprehension of medieval Gothic architecture and by his restorations of structures built in this style. He was a pupil of Leclere; he made long journeys for the purpose of study in Italy and southern France, and in 1840 was appointed inspector of works at Ste-Chapelle in Paris, the present form of which is his work. This was the beginning of his influential labors for the preservation and restoration of early Gothic monuments. Whatever he did showed brilliant ability, knowledge, and taste.

Reliquary of the Nail and Wood of the Holy Cross. Goldsmithing (1862) by Placide Poussielgue-Rusand (1824-1889) designed by Eugène VIollet-le-Duc.

He superintended the restoration of the Abbey of St-Denis, of the church at Vezelay, and that of Our Lady at Chalons-sur-Marne, of the cathedrals of Paris, Amiens, and Laon. The beautiful sacristy of the cathedral at Paris is his work. In 1853 he was made inspector-general of ancient buildings in France; in 1863 he was made professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His lectures on the development of medieval architecture in France, filled with a noble national feeling, aroused such enmity against him among the Academicians that he was obliged to retire from his position in favor of Taine.

Château de Pierrefonds

Napoleon III placed him in charge of the restoration of the Chateau of Pierrefonds. During the siege of Paris (1870-71) he commanded a corps of engineers, and wrote a “Memoire sur la defense de Paris” (1871). Soon after this he expressed radical opinions in politics, was elected deputy in 1874, and opposed Thiers. As a connoisseur of art he wrote a number of valuable works: “Dictionnaire raisonne de l’architecture francaise du onzieme au seizieme siecle” (10 vols., 1854-69), illustrated by his own sketches; “Essai sur l’architecture militaire au moyen age” (1854); “Dictionnaire du mobilier francais jusqu’a la Renaissance” (6 vols., 1855-75); “Monographie de Notre—Dame de Paris” (1856), written in conjunction with Guillermy; “Description du chateau de Pierre-fonds” (1857); “Description du chateau de Coucy” (1858); “Histoire d’une maison” (1873); “Histoire d’une forteresse” (1874); “Histoire d’un hotel de ville et d’une cathedrale” (4 vols., 1873-78); “Histoire d’un dessinateur” (1879); “Les eglises de Paris” (1883); “La cite de Carcassonne” (1886); “L’art russe” (1877). There are interesting essays in the “Entretiens sur l’architecture” (1858-72).

A drawing by Viollet-le-Duc of one of the two doors of Rouen Cathedral, the Calende door.

Viollet-Le-Duc is exact, clear, and often brilliant in his writings, just as in his practical works. Drawings of his preserved at the Trocadero, and which have appeared in print, are a treasure-house of suggestive designs. The exact knowledge of medieval architecture acquired by life-long experience would not alone have brought him such far-reaching influence. What is best both in his works and in his theories is the profound comprehension of the spirit of the medieval master-builders. He not only grasped the historical forms, but the comprehended also their meaning, and knew how to evolve the organic structure from its inward spirit. The task involved in the structure, its suitable execution with an independent use of the traditional forms) were of more importance to him than the style itself.

Armor drawing by Viollet-le-Duc.

Consequently he did not follow exclusively the Gothic style, however highly he valued in Gothic architecture the development of the forms from the object in view and the material used in construction, and the logical consecutiveness of the parts. He knew how to impart to his pupils and to co-workers a keen sense of perception, that was not satisfied with the mere external imitation of what was ancient. Among the important architects who imitated him closely were Boswillald and Paul Abadie, the architect of the Church of the Heart of Jesus at Montmartre. It must be acknowledged that in the revival of medieval architecture a dubious principle gained the mastery. Although the best followers of the great restorer of architecture believed with him that the architect ought not to be permitted to be a mere imitator, still the way was not made sufficiently clear for an independent development of architecture according to the needs, and in harmony with the feelings, of the present era.

G. Gietmann (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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