At the age of nine, during a year in which his family lived in Paris, Andrew Tallon fell in love with the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Since then, the Gothic cathedrals of France have held a particular fascination for the Vassar associate professor of art.
Tallon and Stephen Murray, professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, spent five years developing Mapping Gothic France, with funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The website, an educational and research tool for students and scholars, features a database of more than 10,000 images, texts and historical maps that illuminate the architectural achievements – as well as the geopolitical context – of 12th- and 13th-century France.
In turn, that project led to an exhibition at the very cathedral that initially sparked Tallon’s interest in Gothic architecture: In May, he mounted "Notre-Dame: Nine Centuries in the Life of a Cathedral" on site. The exhibition opened with a lecture presented by Tallon and Dany Sandron, professor of the history of the art and architecture of the Middle Ages at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Underwritten by Vassar’s President’s International Advisory Council and a small group of alumnae/i, it will be shown indefinitely, and is expected to be seen by more than six million visitors to the cathedral while on display.
Tallon says the cathedral’s 37,000 daily visitors “have had few resources for understanding the building through which they walk. The exhibition supplies some badly needed pedagogical information on the construction of the building.”
"Notre-Dame: Nine Centuries in the Life of a Cathedral" takes advantage of a three-dimensional laser scan of the cathedral created in conjunction with the 2010 documentary film Les cathédrales dévoilées, co-produced by PBS/Nova and Arte. The highly detailed spatial map of the building, transformed into 3D models by graphic designer Laurence Stefanon, contains more than a billion points of data, each precise to within five millimeters, and tells the story of the construction and reconstruction of Notre-Dame over the past nine centuries.
The exhibition builds on Mapping Gothic France, which features interactive laser scans and three-dimensional, panoramic photographs that enable visitors to the site to explore the cathedrals from virtually every angle – and even to access areas not normally made available to the general public.
Tallon says the exhibition has helped him to realize a “lifelong dream of doing homage to this key building.” But his work also transcends national borders. Earlier this year, he began his first related U.S.-based project, at the Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital – which, in August, became the subject of an extensive feature article in the Washington Post.