The text below is the excerpt of the book Gothic Art, written by , published by Parkstone International.
The system of the French Gothic found its first complete expression in Notre-Dame in Paris. Building commenced in 1163 and the church, which was completed at the beginning of the thirteenth century, except for its two towers, served as a model for most French cathedrals.
In particular, its façade proved very typical. It consists of three tiers, which are strictly separated by horizontal sectioning: above the three portals is a row of arches adorned with statues. This is the “gallery of kings”, so called because it depicts the kings of Israel; then, above the second tier, runs an open gallery. This strict emphasis on the horizontal line, which actually contradicts the essence of typical Gothic, is a feature specific to French Gothic style and may explain at least partially why the towers of several French cathedrals remain incomplete. Others remained unfinished because the master builders simply could not conclude them, probably for a variety of reasons. When the architects realised the contradiction between the proclivity for heights, which lay at the core of the Gothic style, and the horizontal sectioning inherited from the Romanesque period, the two could no longer be reconciled. Among their works are many creations, the artistic appeal of which lies especially in the rich formation of the façades.
The open forecourt of Notre-Dame affords a view of the west end of the building in its entirety – but that was not possible before Baron Haussmann’s alterations, which cleared streets and houses in order to make it so.
The centre of the forecourt is the point from which distances elsewhere are measured (usually in kilometres) from Paris. The Rue de la Cité corresponds to part of the original north-south route in Gallo-Roman times. On one side now stands the main city hospital (the Hôtel-Dieu), on the other the Police Headquarters (the Prefecture) together with a flower- and bird-market. This western side of the island is where the Roman authorities were stationed, and later where the Merovingian kings set themselves up within the protection of the Gallo-Roman embankment. The uprising led by Etienne Marcel caused King Charles V to hastily find himself somewhere else to reside, which he did in the Marais and at the Louvre. The royal palace later became the Parliamentary chambers, and then the Palais de Justice (the High Court). Buildings on the site have thus been modified many times over since the Roman era. In the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc restored and enlarged the palace. Nicely wrought iron railings (1785) lead into the cour de Mai (the May Courtyard).
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