The design of the present carpet was the work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) for the
sanctuary of Notre Dame de Paris in the 1860s.
Viollet-le-Duc was a highly talented and individualistic architect and designer, as well as being
an eminent art historian. Despite an early passion for architecture, he refused to enter the École
des Beaux-Arts, choosing instead the experience of working with practicing architects and
traveling France and Italy to view great works from the past. Viollet-le-Duc was part of an
international group of theorists who imbued ornament with a new importance, and his
Entretiens sur l’architecture (1858) was cited by Victor Horta and Gaudí as an influence on
their theories of architecture.
As a leading member of the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils, Viollet-le-Duc won the prestigious
assignment to restore the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris from the Commission des
Monuments Historiques in 1845, a project that lasted until the end of his life. His plans,
drawings and sketches for the project were reproduced in his 1868 publication, Chapelles de Notre Dame de Paris: Peintures murales executées sur les cartons de E. Viollet-Le-Duc …
relevées par Maurice Ouradou. It is this work which includes the design for the present carpet.
Two carpets were produced to this design, the present piece and one that had formerly been laid
out in the sanctuary of Notre Dame de Paris and today remains in possession of the cathedral. Importantly, both the Notre Dame carpet and the present example are of identical dimensions.
They differ only in that the top of the Notre Dame carpet is curved to accommodate the steps of
the altar, whereas
the top of the present carpet is straight. Apart from this aspect, which affects one of the outer
borders, the entire complex design of the body of the carpets is identical in both. Additionally,
Viollet-le-Duc also created carpeting of complementary design to cover the stairs leading up to
the altar of the catherdral, which is embroidered with the name of its maker, FREDERIC
TIXIER / Fbt DE TAPIS À AUBUSSON.
The central subject of the carpet is most likely based on the design of an ablution fountain, a
structure situated in the heart of the courtyard of some Islamic mosques. A leading professor of
Islamic architecture kindly pointed out a likely source of inspiration for Viollet-le-Duc, when
drawing the central theme for the present carpet. He further explained that “Viollet-le-Duc was
indeed very much familiar with Islamic architecture. He knew and read the work of two
architects and art historians who traveled to and worked in Egypt: Pascal Coste who published a
major book, Architecture Arabe ou Monuments du Caire and Jules Bourgeoin who wrote L’art
Arabe.” The professor suggested that “Le Duc might have seen a similar pavilion in the
illustrations of Coste’s book, which he owned [...] he even wrote about Coste in his own book.”
Indeed, imagery from numerous plates within this publication reverberates throughout the
details of the carpet, such as the shaped finial on top of the domed monument, its horseshoe
arches and the exotic palms and vegetation growing on top of and through the structure.