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Presentation on Gothic polychromy, the materiality of color: The case of Notre-Dame de Paris

October 30 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Join us in Maxwell Hall on October 30th, 2023 for a presentation by Stéphanie Duchêne, Chemist and Art Historian – Mural Painting and Polychrome Research Division in the French National Historic Monuments Research Laboratory (Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques).

Over recent decades, studies related to the restoration of Gothic cathedral portals have revealed a rich, even if fragmentary, medieval polychromy. The Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques (LRMH) has been entrusted with the task of analyzing most of these remnants. A substantial archive, comprising roughly eighty scientific reports from 1964 to 2018, coupled with the preservation of all samples and cross-sections have now been properly indexed and cataloged. This serves as a valuable informational resource for the study of Gothic polychromy.

The study of the chemical make-up of the pigments and binders on these Gothic portals relies upon reanalyzing samples taken by the LRMH using current analytical techniques.

Two distinct sets of portals have been identified for study: one from the early Gothic period (12th century) and the other from the classical Gothic period (13th century). The materials and techniques found on these different monuments are compared in a comprehensive synthesis in order to identify common painting practices. These findings offer a consistent interpretation across time and regions regarding the artistic techniques used in coloring Gothic portals.

The polychromy of the west façade of Notre-Dame cathedral occupies a unique position in our knowledge of medieval polychromy because of the great number of samples that exist. Approximately a hundred samples, collected from the late 1960s to 2022, have been re-examined. These represent the most extensive collection of specimens from any Gothic portal. Analyzing the materials that make up the colored layers supports certain hypotheses about the construction phase of the site, drawing from a robust multidisciplinary approach that encompasses archaeometry, history of art and architecture, and technical art history.


October 30
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


Maxwell Hall
420 Stadium Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 United States
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