Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), French architect and theorist, consciously chose the Gothic style of architecture, not as a 19th-century revival style based on emotional associations but as a logical, reasoned, functional expression.

Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc considered that "The beauty of a structure … [lies in] the judicious use of materials and means at the disposal of the constructor." His practical application of this theory centered in architectural reconstructions and renovations; his architectural designs are few.

Viollet-le-Duc was born in Paris on Jan. 27, 1814. He rejected the idea of a formal architectural education at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1830 he began to study architecture, first with J. J. M. Huvé and later with Achille Leclère. As professor of composition and ornament, he taught for a short period at the École de Dessin, Paris.

In 1840 the Commission of Historical Monuments assigned Viollet-le-Duc the task of restoring the Romanesque church of La Madeleine at Vézelay. During the same year, in association with J. B. A. Lassus, Viollet-le-Duc restored the Ste-Chapelle, Paris, and in 1844 they won the competition for the restoration of Notre Dame, Paris. Viollet-le-Duc also restored the town of Carcassonne; the château at Pierrefonds; the cathedrals of Sens, Narbonne, Toulouse, and Amiens; the abbey church of Saint-Denis; and Notre-Damedu-Port at Clermont-Ferrand. His philosophy was "to restore [the building] to a state of completeness that may never have existed."

Viollet-le-Duc adapted Gothic forms to metal and iron and was interested in the decorative possibilities of the material, as expressed by the medieval smithy. His authoritative studies of Gothic architecture were the Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XI au XVI siècle (10 vols., 1854-1868) and the Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier français de l'époque carlovingienne à la Renaissance (6 vols., 1858-1875). His Entretiens sur l'architecture (part 1, 1862-1863, part 2 1868-1872) expressed his philosophy of the functional structure of the Gothic style as employed in his own projects, some of which were of iron construction. His "vaulting systems for large spaces" utilized diagonal and vertical supports in compression and tension, as supports and hangers, with socket knuckle joints. In some cases wrought-iron decoration was fastened to the structure.

Viollet-le-Duc's own architectural compositions were comparable to the bold and forceful creations of the High Victorian Gothic style in England. His tomb for the Duc de Morny (1858) in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris and the church of St-Denys-de-l'Estrée at Saint-Denis (1864-1867) reflect this trend. The architect was a favorite of Empress Eugénie and, with the support of Napoleon III, became professor of the history of art and esthetics at the École des Beaux-Arts after curriculum changes of 1863, partially instigated by his publication of articles on architectural education. His appointment was not a success. Viollet-le-Duc died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 17, 1879.


Further Reading on Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

The two best sources of material on Viollet-le-Duc are in John Summerson, Heavenly Mansions (1949), and Henry Hope Reed, The Golden City (1959).