3D movie revives ‘colourful’ life in medieval Paris

A vivid and colourful Notre-Dame of the Middle Ages has risen from the mists of time thanks to a new 3D film.

20 January 2017

Paris au Moyen Age walks viewers along the banks of the Seine, through the great squares of the city and around major monuments as they would have looked at the tail end of the Middle Ages.
The film uses computer-generated images to show the immense changes that have taken place in the capital over the last five centuries.

Images range from a beautiful, multi-coloured representation of Notre Dame, to a more sinister view of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, where criminals were executed and their bodies left hanging as a warning to citizens.
Artist Eric Zingraff, from 3D Grez Productions, spent years doing detective work around Paris to make the film, and combined information from a range of sources – including documents, paintings, and engravings to create his fascinating visual reconstruction.

Mr Zingraff, 56, became interested in the medieval period of the city he calls home during a visit to the cathedral of Notre-Dame in 2005.

When he discovered the foundations of a forgotten street had been discovered during the building of a car park under the cathedral’s Parvis (square) in the 1970s, his project to bring medieval Paris back to life was born.
The rue Neuve Notre-Dame had disappeared during works carried out by Georges-Eugène Haussmann during the Second Empire in the 1860s, although clues to its existence remain; the paving stones where the street once ran are lighter in colour.

The old Hôtel-Dieu hospital, and other crumbling medieval buildings on the Ile de la Cité, were also demolished during Haussman’s wide-scale renovations, ordered by Napoléon III, the nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, to bring air and light to an overcrowded, dark and dangerous city that was rife with disease.

After discovering these ghosts of Paris past, Mr Zingraff headed to the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris to do more research. There, he found a map of the city dating from 1550, which enabled him to put together his reconstruction.

“It was the map that opened the door,” he told Connexion. “Paintings give you a general idea of what the major buildings looked like, but the map allowed me to position them.”
When it came to what he calls the ‘tissu urbain’, streets and houses around major buildings such as Notre-Dame, Chatelet and the Louvre, Mr Zingraff explained that his reconstruction is not precise. Here, he resorted to educated guess-work from paintings.

“If they looked a certain way in one area of the city they were probably the same in another,” he said.

Although not many paintings from this period have survived, Mr Zingraff was able to draw on information from works including the Procession de La Ligue (by any anonymous painter), which is housed at the Musée Carnavalet in the capital.

He also worked with paintings from the best-known illustrated manuscript of the medieval period, the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. These are ‘enluminures’, or illustrations, for a book of prayers commissioned by the Duke of Berry from the famous Dutch miniature painters, brothers Paul, Jean and Herman de Limbourg. The proportions of the buildings were more difficult to establish, Mr Zingraff said, since paintings from the era often portray buildings as bigger and more isolated than they actually were.

He added: “Working in 3D ‘restricts’ you in a way; you have to work with foundations and height. Using the map, you can put the buildings in the right place and make them the right size, while paintings give you the aesthetic appearance. So, all these elements help you to create a reconstruction that is closer to the original.”

Colours also had to be approximated, but Mr Zingraff said he was certain that Notre-Dame was even more colourful than his representation.
“When the cathedral was restored, they found colourful traces of the old façade,” he said.

“Although it was impossible to tell exactly what colours they were, we do know from micropigments in the earth, and from other cathedrals built during that era in France, such as those in Amiens and Chartres, that they were very bright.”

Nonetheless, a certain amount of artistic interpretation was involved in the choice of colours, although red, for example, was a sacred colour.
The film shows Paris at the end of the Middle Ages; the Renaissance came to France later than Italy after the movement began in Florence.
“In 1550 Paris still had its medieval character,” said Mr Zingraff. “The Renaissance arrived 10 years later, with Italian artists who came to France.”

His work sparked a great deal of interest, and he was encouraged to continue by the positive feedback he received from historians. As an artist, Mr Zingraff had always been interested in 3D, and he now focuses on virtual reality visors for visitors to historic monuments.

‘Paris au Moyen Age’ can be ordered from www.grezprod.com

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