A huge fire broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday evening. The fire quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, collapsing its iconic spire and causing significant damage. The church, which was built in the 12th and 12th centuries, was undergoing extensive renovations. The project was estimated to cost €150m.
Hours after the catastrophic fire, French billionaires François-Henri Pinault and his father Francois Pinault have pledged €100m to help rebuild the historic landmark Notre Dame Cathedral. They said in a statement that they will provide the money from the family’s investment firm Artemis towards the effort necessary to completely rebuild Notre-Dame.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the 82-year-old Francois Pinault is the world’s 23rd richest person with a net worth estimated at US$37.3bn. The billionaire has a personal art collection of more than 2,000 works.
François-Henri Pinault is the owner of auction house Christie's
François-Henri Pinault, 56, is the chairman and CEO of the international luxury group Kering that includes fashion brands Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. He is also the President of Groupe Artémis, which owns the fine arts auction house Christie's.
Bronze heads of a rabbit and a rat were returned to China
Known for his philanthropy, François-Henri Pinault also made tremendous efforts to the art world. Back in 2013, he returned two rare bronzes, a rat head and a rabbit head, to China. The bronze heads were among 12 animal heads that were looted from the Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War in 1860.
Becky MacGuire, Senior Specialist of Chinese Export Art at Christie’s
A year ago, Christie’s took part in raising funds for the cathedral’s massive restoration project. Becky MacGuire, Senior Specialist of Chinese Export Art at Christie’s, wrote on her Instagram, “Our hearts are breaking for Notre Dame de Paris, for which we were so proud to host a reception and talk just a year ago to help raise funds for their massive restoration project. There are no words.”
The 850-year-old Gothic building is home to invaluable works of art, artefacts and relics collected over centuries, which are now under threat by the blaze. The fate of these priceless artworks and relics is still unclear.
Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the building had suffered "colossal damages", and teams were working to save the cathedral's remaining artwork. Firefighters were able to save some of the treasured relics, including The Holy Crown of Thorns, said to have been worn by Jesus Christ before the crucifixion. Originally from Jerusalem, it was given to King Louis IX in 1238, who built the Sainte-Chappelle in Paris especially to house it, and was later transferred to Notre Dame.
Other saved relics include the tunic of Saint Louis and a collection of chalices held in the cathedral’s treasury. The 13th-century garment said to belong to King Louis – the only French king to become a Saint. He headed two crusades in 1248 and 1267. At the onset of the Seventh Crusade in 1270, Louis died of dysentery.
Yet, the fate of many artworks and relics remained unknown, including a 1648 portrait of Thomas Aquinas, a fragment of the True Cross that Jesus was crucified and an original nail that was used.
A fragment of the True Cross
A 1648 portrait of Thomas Aquinas