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UA Art Historian Awarded Grant to Study Notre Dame Cathedral’s Historic Sculptures

Angel with remnants of polychromy, Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, west façade central portal. Photo: Jennifer M. Feltman.

Although it may seem shocking to modern taste, the sculptures of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris were once painted using rich pigments made from azurite (blue), red ochre, yellow ochre, and copper oxides (greens and blue-greens). Some sculptures were even gilded with real gold. Over the centuries, the sculptures were repainted, sometimes in new colors.

Now, researchers from The University of Alabama and Sorbonne Université in Paris will work together to digitally restore the sculptures’ historic colors in order to study changes to the cathedral over the centuries.

UA associate professor of art history, Dr. Jennifer M. Feltman, and Sorbonne Université architect and 3D engineer, Grégory Chaumet, were awarded a 2022 FACE Foundation – Transatlantic Research Partnership for their project, “Notre Dame in Color: Visualizing the Layered Polychromy of the Cathedral of Paris.” The two-year grant establishes the first research partnership between UA and the Centre Chastel of the Sorbonne Université in Paris. It will facilitate the analysis, documentation and digital reconstruction of the vibrant paints on the exterior sculptures of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Dr. Jennifer M. Feltman

Using data from the Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques, project leaders and team members will digitally paint layers onto a 3D model in order to document and visualize the changing aesthetics of Notre Dame. In December 2022, Feltman will take a team of UA researchers to Paris to collaborate with colleagues at the Plemo 3D lab of the Centre Chastel, Sorbonne Université. Team members from UA include anthropologist Alexandre Tokovivine, Jeremiah Stager of the Office of Archaeological Research and graduate students.

This is the first time The University of Alabama has been awarded a FACE Foundation – Transatlantic Research Partnership.

The Transatlantic Research Partnership is a program launched in 2017 by the Embassy of France in the United States and the FACE Foundation to support new collaborations and cutting-edge multidisciplinary research projects between promising young researchers in France and the United States. The two-year grant will provide $20,000 to support transatlantic mobility of research teams from the United States and France. Feltman is conducting this work as a member of the Chantier scientifique de Notre Dame, which is studying the fire-ravaged cathedral as it is undergoing restoration.

Dr. Jennifer Feltman, who has taught medieval art history at UA since 2016, has been closely involved in the restoration of Notre Dame since the devastating fire destroyed the roof and more in April 2019. In 2021, she was able to visit the cathedral in person to begin her hands-on research as a member of a team of scientists and art historians, the Ministère de la Culture / CNRS Chantier scientifique de Notre Dame – Décor, directed by Prof. Dany Sandron of Sorbonne Université. The Chantier scientifique has been provided special access to the cathedral while restoration is underway. “Notre Dame in Color” is one of Feltman’s projects as an A&S Collaborative Arts Research Initiative Fellow.

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