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The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame

Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity

Most of the seven million people who visit the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris each year probably do not realize that the legendary gargoyles adorning this medieval masterpiece were not constructed until the nineteenth century. The first comprehensive history of these world-famous monsters, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame argues that they transformed the iconic thirteenth-century cathedral into a modern monument.

Michael Camille begins his long-awaited study by recounting architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s ambitious restoration of the structure from 1843 to 1864, when the gargoyles were designed, sculpted by the little-known Victor Pyanet, and installed. These gargoyles, Camille contends, were not mere avatars of the Middle Ages, but rather fresh creations—symbolizing an imagined past—whose modernity lay precisely in their nostalgia. He goes on to map the critical reception and many-layered afterlives of these chimeras, notably in the works of such artists and writers as Charles Méryon, Victor Hugo, and photographer Henri Le Secq. Tracing their eventual evolution into icons of high kitsch, Camille ultimately locates the gargoyles’ place in the twentieth-century imagination, exploring interpretations by everyone from Winslow Homer to the Walt Disney Company.

Lavishly illustrated with more than three hundred images of its monumental yet whimsical subjects, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame is a must-read for historians of art and architecture and anyone whose imagination has been sparked by the lovable monsters gazing out over Paris from one of the world’s most renowned vantage points.

464 pages | 370 halftones | 8-1/2 x 9-1/4 | © 2009

Architecture: European Architecture

Art: European Art


“The ‘restoration’ of Notre Dame de Paris has always been controversial. Viollet-le-Duc and Jean Baptiste Lassus have long been cast as the handmaidens of nineteenth-century positivism, instilling a vision of rational structure and historical development on the cathedral only recently purged of its Revolutionary years as a Temple of Reason. Writing a history of the cathedral’s bevy of gargoyles, Michael Camille brilliantly confirms Viollet-le-Duc’s definition of ‘restoration’ as both a word and thing of modern coinage. This last work of one of our time’s great medievalists is, like Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, at once monumental and wide ranging, yet always focused on a demonic protagonist. Provocative, at times profoundly insightful, Michael Camille unveils the fantasies and anxieties of both Viollet-le-Duc and all the restorations since in the veils of meaning and emotions of France’s most visited cathedral.”

Barry Bergdoll, Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

“The celebrated medievalist Michael Camille takes on the modern era in this sweeping and brave book—with staggeringly original results. Exploring the indispensability of the monstrous to the modern, The Gargoyles of Notre Dame is at once a meditation on the valences of modernity and a rumination on the meanings attributed to the Middle Ages and the cathedral itself in the later nineteenth century.”

Hollis Clayson, author of Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life under Siege

"Extraordinary, comprehensively illustrated and cogently argued. . . . The illustrations alone are amazing . . . and the whole monumental, provocative, finished volume is a tribute to scholarship as well as to the protagonists of one of the most spectacular works of controversial restoration ever undertaken. The book investigates the monstrous and its influence on the modern . . . as well as providing thoughtful asides on 19th-century interpretations of the meanings given to medievalism and to a revived medieval artefact."

James Stevens Curl | Times Educational Supplement

“An ingenious and highly readable book.”

Sculpture Journal

"Writing a comprehensive history of the monsters everyone loves to see, Camille details their construction in the 19th century and argues that they transformed the iconic thirteenth-century cathedral into a modern monument."

Real Clear Arts

Table of Contents

Abbreviations of Locations and Sources of Illustrations
Part I: Restoration
1. Monsters of Reason: The Gargoyles of Viollet-le-Duc
I. The 1843 Project and Its Transformation
II. Drawings by Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus
III. Viollet-le-Duc’s Anti-iconographic Imagination
2. Monsters of Stone: The Gargoyles of Victor Joseph Pyanet
I. The Sculptor of Ornament
II. The Myth of the Medieval Craftsman
III. Life and Death on the Building Site
3. Monsters of Romanticism: The Gargoyles of Victor Hugo
I. Quasimodo’s Grimace and the Craze for Gargoyles
II. The Book Will Kill the Building
III. The View from Notre-Dame
IV. Michelet and the Devil’s Ogival Eye
4. Monsters of Race: The Gargoyles of Science
I. The Spirit of Evil: Physiognomy
II. The Wandering Jew: Aryanism
III. The Hairy Ape: Evolution
IV. The Cretin Unicorn: Degeneration
V. Stones and Bones: Paleontology
5. Monsters of Revolution: The Gargoyles of Politics
I. Political Animals on the Left and Right
II. The Brute and the Bourgeois
III. The Wild Beast and the Revolutionary Worker
IV. Shrouded Birds and Murdered Bishops
V. The Eagle and the Emperor
Epilogue to Part I: The Gargoyles Restored (1864)
Part II: Reproduction
6. Monsters of Melancholy: The Gargoyles of Charles Méryon
I. The Stryge’s Sex
II. The Self and the Squatting Ape
III. The Suicidal Stare
7. Monsters of Light: The Gargoyles of Photographers
I. The Dandy as Beholder: Charles Nègre and Henri Le Secq
II. The Worker as Beholder: Henri Le Secq and Viollet-le-Duc
III. The Beast as Beholder: From Marville to Mieusement
8. Monsters of Sex: The Gargoyles of Gender
I. Love among the Gargoyles
II. Freud, Hysteria, and the Gynecologic Gargoyle
III. Huysmans’s Chimera: The Cathedral as Whore
IV. Lulu Makes the Gargoyles Speak
V. Gay Gargoyles of the Nineties
9. Monsters of the Media: The Gargoyles in the Twentieth Century
I. The Chimerical Postcard
II. Dark Gargoyles: Surrealism, Fascism and the Occult
III. White Gargoyles: American Gothic from Winslow Homer to Disney
IV. Global Gargoyles on the Internet
Epilogue to Part II: The Gargoyles Restored Again (2000)
Appendix: The Chimeras (a List and Photographic Survey)


Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award

Dedalus Foundation: Robert Motherwell Book Award
Honorable Mention

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