As Notre Dame is Secured, UA Art Historian Researches On-Site

Jennifer M. Feltman and Iliana Kasarska on scaffolding in front of Last Judgment portal, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris. Photo by Stéphanie Duchêne.

UPDATE! The 2022 FACE Foundation – Transatlantic Research Partnership has been awarded to Dr. Feltman and Sorbonne Université architect and 3D engineer, Grégory Chaumet, for their project to study the historic sculptures of Notre Dame. Read more here.

Just a little more than two years since the devastating fire of April 2019, UA’s Dr. Jennifer M. Feltman, assistant professor of art history, was able to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame to begin her hands-on research, which will contribute to the restoration of the historic building.

On September 18, 2021, just a few days before Feltman’s arrival in Paris, the French government agency in charge of the cathedral’s restoration announced that it is now stable and secure enough for restoration work to proceed.

Feltman is one of 14 specialists appointed to a team of scientists and art historians who have been provided special access to the cathedral to begin their work. The group, the CNRS Chantier scientifique de Notre Dame – Décor, directed by Prof. Dany Sandron of Sorbonne Université, will study all aspects of the cathedral’s visual arts, ranging from Middle Ages to modern times. During her September visit, Feltman met with colleagues from eight European institutions: the Institute Catholique de Paris, Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques (LRMH), the Monuments historiques-Ministère da la culture, the Musée de Cluny, the Musée du Louvre, Sorbonne Université, the Université de Bordeaux and the University of Bamberg. Their visit focused on the remnants of paint found throughout the cathedral.

Team members viewing chapels from the ambulatory, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris. Photo: Jennifer M. Feltman

Feltman’s focus is the sculptures of the west façade’s central portal, which represent the theme of the Last Judgment, the topic of her forthcoming book, Moral Theology and the Cathedral: Sculptural Programs of the Last Judgment in France, c.1200–1240, to be published by Brepols in 2022.

Feltman said that scaffolding has been erected inside the building along all the nave and choir walls, to allow restorers to rebuild the cathedral’s stone vaults and roof that were destroyed in the fire. On Friday, she was able to view the sculptures from scaffolding and visit the interior of the cathedral where restoration work is in progress.

“Some of the chapels of the cathedral have already been restored,” Feltman explained. “While the current restoration is informed by the latest digital technologies, such as 3-D laser scanning, the reconstruction will not look contemporary. It will recreate the appearance of Notre Dame as it was before the fire using the materials of the Middle Ages: stone, wood, iron, and lead.”

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.