Stained Glass Sold At Sotheby’s is Stolen From Notre Dame?

Stained Glass Recently Sold at Sotheby's Auction, but French Investigators Think It Is Stolen From Notre Dame Cathedral.

Sep 18, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Notre Dame Cathedral, Stained Glass
Notre Dame Cathedral. Via archive


Stained glass once belonged to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Overall, the fragments formerly belonged to the cathedral’s majestic north wing rose window. The architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc took them apart and reinstalled them when he renovated the structure. According to the origin, Edouard Didron, a stained glass restorer, sold the items subsequently during the years of 1877 and 1905.


Stained Glass Was Never Didron’s to Sell

Stained Glass
Notre Dame de Paris cathedral North rose window (Photo by: Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


The validity of that 2015 deal is now being questioned. The French policemen initiated an initial investigation into a formal complaint made on Monday, September 11th. Overall, the French association ‘Lumiere sur le Patrimoine’ (Spotlight on Heritage) started the process. The complaint examines the selling of artefacts from the past, that it believes somebody looted them.


It asserts Viollet-le-Duc never had an authorisation to sell the crystal roundels. Why? Everything removed from the cathedral is immediately French property. The Lumiere sur le Patrimoine was set up earlier this year by its chair Philippe Machicote. Machicote learned about the 2015 purchase, while browsing over ancient auction brochures. He started the organisation after sharing his worries with France’s Ministry of Culture.


Notre Dame
This photograph taken in Paris, on February 1, 2023. Photo by Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images.


But, the ministry never gave an official response. “At that date [1877–1905], the cathedral belonged to the state, and had since the revolution. Anything taken from it in the 19th century was de facto imprescriptible and inalienable. The situation is ludicrous”. He also said the pieces are “hidden in a sale of old paintings, sculptures, and drawings”.

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Sotheby’s Does Not Accept Any Wrongdoing

notre dame, stained glass
A wooden model of Notre Dame cathedral on view in “Notre Dame de Paris: at the heart of the construction site”


The auction company presented the valuable vibrant colours porcelain roundels, one of which depicts a heavenly being carrying a candle. The other depicts an angel in 2015 holding a burning light. hey sold separately with one fetching $132,000 and the other $119,000, trumping their high estimates of $64,000. Sotheby’s asserted the organization did not contact them prior to the filing of the lawsuit.


Also, the auction house did not accept any wrongdoing. “Sotheby’s complies with all applicable laws, regulations and restrictions wherever we operate in the world. Before offering property for sale, we conduct research and due diligence as appropriate to satisfy ourselves that there are no legal obstacles”, the auction house stated.


Sotheby’s worldwide headquarters on York Avenue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, via Wikimedia Commons


“Prior to offering these pieces at auction, we obtained all required permissions and export certificates from the relevant authorities, as well as alerting the experts and museum curators”, the statement continued. According to France’s law of preemption, the state and its national museums have the right to buy any cultural goods before they are sold to the public.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.