A Visual Representation of Christianity’s Purpose through Notre Dame de la Grande’s Frieze

The relaying of stories and important events through a visual tradition is something we have seen through the course of our study of different sculptures, paintings, and architectural marvels in this course and has resonated to me as a theme in Art History. This visual tradition or culture has tied together communities that need not be literate in order to understand and embrace their history, their values as a collective group, in order to learn about their ancestors and religion. When looking at the cave paintings in Lascaux, we see that animals and other similar themes in the images found as artwork there were actually specifically and purposefully drawn out by these people. This portrays what was important, significant, and even cherished by the community without us having to read it in a book about the Lascaux people. Just as images that a community chooses to paint on cave walls to show admiration or importance in every day life, so too, do the Medieval Romanesque church structures, images, and sculptures send a clear message about the Christian religion and its followers without the use of words.

Notre Dame Le Grande, as a great example of a traditional Medieval Romanesque Cathedral in France, serves not only as a place to convene in order to hear the message of God and the Church (which was probably not the case as many people did not understand the Latin Mass being given) but also as a visual aid for Biblical teachings and stories for the community in order to better understand the history of Christianity through different structures such as the Biblical frieze. Not only does the frieze provide a visual representation of different Biblical stories and important figures such as that of Adam and Eve or the Nativity scene, but it also seems to find a second purpose in the way it is laid out to convey a subliminal message to the viewer. Beginning with the images of Adam and Eve on the left end and ending with the Washing of Christ the Child, the frieze is a testament and journey across the ultimate purpose of the Christian religion which is to wipe away the evil and sin that was first cast by the original sin of Adam and Eve through the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The symbolic washing of the Jesus as a child can be seen as what he came to do for humanity: to purify or cleanse a people that have tainted a world given to them by God with sin and evil deeds.

The separation between sinners and holy beings is also a key element of this Biblical frieze found at Notre Dame le Grande as we see that those who have erred, humans capable of sin (such as Adam and Eve, Nebuchadnezzar, and the prophets or disciples) are placed on the left side of the frieze while Jesse, Joseph, and Jesus are found on the right side and are all associated with a holy genealogy. Therefore, not only do these images serve as a story that can be related to the viewer (who may not, as an illiterate, be able to read about these important events in Christianity in the Bible), but they also show a clear hierarchy within Christianity. The fact that there is a clear distinction between the divine and the human, the good and the evil, is emphasized by the placement of these images in the frieze. This can also then serve as a message or reminder to the followers of the church of what they should ultimately be reaching for in their faith, that of re-achieving a perfection that was once given to them but was lost through the temptation of sin.

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