Notre Dame in Paris: Stone and Mortar, Fire and Water
Caroline Bruzelius ‘71
April 12, 2023 2:00 p.m. EST,
1:00 p.m. CST,
11:00 a.m. PST
8:00 p.m. Paris time
Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the great Gothic buildings of the Middle Ages, a symbol of Paris as well as a building that incorporated emerging aesthetic and structural innovations, such as rib-vaults and flying buttresses, as part of its design. As a scholar of French and Italian medieval architecture, Caroline Bruzelius studied Notre-Dame close-up by climbing scaffolding during the cathedral’s extensive cleaning between 1979 and 1986. In 1987, she published a dense article on her novel understanding of its construction. Based on masonry and architectural details, she suggested that Notre-Dame was the result of a fluid and evolving design and construction process: the building was being “rethought” and modified as it went up in relation to technological, structural, and aesthetic change. So, Notre-Dame was not the result of “one design idea” but rather of a succession of improvements and modifications introduced during the many decades of its construction.
The fire of April 2019 brought this cathedral back into her life after an absence of many years of research and teaching, and now new technologies (laser, materials analysis, photogrammetry) are providing new information about the cathedral. A coordinated research initiative on Notre-Dame, run by the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique: https://www.
Caroline majored in Art History at Wellesley, where she was inspired by Peter Fergusson’s class on medieval architecture. She received her PhD from Yale in 1977. She has published extensively on Gothic buildings (9 books and numerous articles), including that important article on the architectural evolution of Notre-Dame de Paris. A Professor at Duke University from 1981 to 2018, she was Chair of the Art and Art History Department for 5 years. From 1993 to 1999, she was the Director of the American Academy in Rome. She has received many honors, fellowships, and awards and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2020.
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