1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène Emmanuel

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VIOLLET-LE-DUC, EUGÈNE EMMANUEL (1814-1879), French architect and writer on archaeology, was born in Paris on the 21st of January 1814. He was a pupil of Achille Leclère, and in 1836-37 spent a year studying Greek and Roman architecture in Sicily and Rome. His chief interest was, however, in the art of the Gothic period, and, like Sir Gilbert Scott in England, he was employed to “restore” some of the chief medieval buildings of France, his earliest works being the abbey church of Vézelay, various churches at Poissy, St Michel at Carcassonne, the church of Semur in Côte-d'Or, and the fine Gothic town halls of Saint-Antonin and Narbonne, all carried out between 1840 and 1850. From 1845 to 1856 he was occupied on the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris in conjunction with Lassus,[1] and also with that of the abbey of St Denis. In 1849 he began the restoration of the fortifications of Carcassonne and of Amiens cathedral; and in later years he restored Laon cathedral, the château of Pierrefonds, and many other important buildings. He was an intimate friend of Napoleon III., and during the siege of Paris (1871) gave valuable help as an engineer to the beleaguered army. He held many important offices, both artistic and political, and was for many years inspector-general of the ancient buildings throughout a large part of France. His last work was the general scheme for the Paris exhibition buildings in 1878. He died on the 17th of September 1879 at Lausanne.

As a designer Viollet-le-Duc occupied only a secondary place; but as a writer on medieval architecture and the kindred arts he takes the highest rank. His two great dictionaries are the standard works in their class, and are most beautifully illustrated with very skilful drawings by his own hand. Viollet-le-Duc was a man of the most varied and brilliant abilities, endowed with a power of work which has seldom been equalled. He was at once an artist, a man of science, a learned archaeologist and a scholar. The map in his Le Massif du Mont Blanc, showing the rock contours and the glaciers of Mont Blanc, is a model of its kind, which combines great artistic beauty with the accuracy of the most skilful engineer. His strong poetical fancy enabled him to reconstruct the life and buildings of the middle ages in the most vivid way.

His principal literary works were the Dictionnaire de l'architecture française du XI. au XVI. siècle (1854-68); Dictionnaire du mobilier français (1858-75); L'Architecture militaire au moyen âge (1854); Entretiens sur l'architecture (1863-72); Cités et ruines américaines (1863); Mémoire sur la défense de Paris (1871); Habitations modernes (1874-77); Histoire d'une maison (1873); Histoire d'une forteresse (1874); Histoire de l'habitation humaine (1875); Le Massif du Mont Blanc (1876); L'Art russe (1877); Histoire d'un hôtel-de-ville et d'une cathédrale (1878); La Décoration appliquée aux édifices (1879); as well as many minor works dealing with separate buildings.


  1. He published in 1867-69 a fine work showing his not very successful coloured decoration applied to the chapels of Notre Dame.