Rebuilding the Franciscan Convent in Paris

Michael DAVIS
(Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, USA)

Keywords: Franciscan convent, Paris, reconstruction, digital model

The Franciscan convent in Paris, begun shortly after 1240 and dedicated in 1263, was one of the most significant architectural projects undertaken during the reign of Louis IX. Severely damaged by fire in 1580 and demolished in the 1790s, the church has been called unknowable, its reconstructed plan dismissed as imaginary, and its importance in the city’s built environment erased.  However, a robust dossier of graphic and written records can be assembled that document the church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine and its cloister. So why bother with a 3-D reconstruction?
The visual evidence available for the Franciscan convent is partial, contradictory, and often misleading. Painted views of the ruined church portray an interior of extreme width and the east end of the building is completely omitted. A suite of archaeological drawings of the chapter house offers four versions of the entrance piers. It is only through the process of digital rebuilding that graphic fragments can be linked, discrepancies resolved and the buildings reassembled as credible structures. Technology enables the Franciscan convent’s return from exile and its re-entry into the monumental history of medieval Paris.  Reconstruction highlights its studied simplicity and formal economy to offer a bracing counterpoint to the opulence of the contemporary Sainte-Chapelle or transepts of Notre-Dame that compose the current picture of the capital’s architecture and the canonic narrative of the Gothic.

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This paper offers a case study of the use of digital technology as a tool that facilitates the integration of varied and discordant evidence as the basis of a credible architectural reconstruction.

This paper, incorporating unpublished visual documents, presents an original  reconstruction of the church of the Franciscans in Paris and its cloister.


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