The pont Notre-Dame and Gersaint’s shop c. 1720
Like most bridges of the old Paris, until the end of the Ancien Régime, the Pont Notre-Dame looked very different from what we can see of it today. Since the beginning of the 16th c., the bridge was lined with 64 look-alike houses, devoted to the trade of goods.
A major connection link between the Quai de Gesvres and the Ile de la Cité, the Pont Notre Dame was a lively and well-visited place which importance in the history of art trade deserves close attention.
Using the database put together by Mickaël Szanto, an application was implemented in order to visualize the localization of dealers of paintings from the 17th century up to the moment the townhouses were brought down in 1786. A simple graphic rendering coupled with a timeline enables us to follow the representativity of this type of dealers among the shops located on the bridge. The visualization shows the highlights and lowpoints in the gradual concentration of dealers of paintings, in keeping with a deep transformation of the Parisian market.
Another approach, favouring photorealistic computer-generated images, enables us to offer a reconstruction of the bridge’s appearance around 1720, piecing together a wide range of iconographic and archival evidence. Such modelling wanted to give sense to the spaces, volumes and materials of this lost architecture. More specifically, the inner view of the bridge required a patient and thorough investigation of the sources to recreate the sensory impression of a busy shopping street lined with two rows of look-alike townhouses hiding the Seine. The year 1720 was chosen for two reasons. For one thing, it is under the Régence that the number of dealers of paintings established on the bridge reached its highest point. What’s more, it is the year that Antoine Watteau painted the famous Enseigne de Gersaint (now kept in Berlin, Schloß Charlottenburg).
Established in the 35th house of the Pont Notre-Dame between 1718 and 1744, Edme-François Gersaint was a young marchand-mercier in 1720, but soon to become the most innovative dealer of paintings of his time. But when Watteau painted l’Enseigne, what was this space, devoted to the exhibition and selling of paintings really like ? Unlike the idealized vision displayed by this rather atypical painting, archival evidence suggest that the space was shallow (12m2), dark and cluttered with items. Computer generated images were the best way to get a better sense of this discrepancy. This tentative reconstruction is mostly based on the inventory established in 1725 after Gersaint’s first wife died. It allows for both a completely new set of hypothesis regarding the place and function of this sign painting, and a better appreciation of its unique and visionary quality.