Art Through Time: A Global View
Cosmology and Belief Art: Aerial View of Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame in Paris is representative of a new type of monumental church building that emerged in the medieval period.
New engineering techniques allowed for larger and more numerous windows, pointed or ogive arches, delicately traced rose windows, ribbed vaults, and higher walls—all held aloft by the bracing of flying buttresses that circled the structure’s exterior without interrupting the visual and religious experience within. Characteristic of the Gothic style, the architecture at Notre Dame puts an emphasis on light cast through clear and stained glass and soaring vertical lines. These features were intended to transport the worshipper from mundane reality by lifting the mind heavenward.
The exterior of the building foreshadows both the physical space and symbolic significance of the interior. A transverse, or horizontal, structure bisects the nave (the length of the church) to create a cruciform shape as seen in this aerial view of Notre Dame. The form of the cross evokes Christ’s suffering and death and the promise of salvation it implies. Although the shape of the building is more difficult to perceive when standing within, it would have been no less meaningful to worshippers. With the sacrifice of Christ reenacted through the sacrament of Mass on the high altar of the cathedral, the symbolism of the church’s cruciform plan was not merely germane, but profound.
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