Romain Rouillard / Photo credit: TETSU JOKO / YOMIURI / THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN VIA AFP 19:05 pm, September 14, 2023

This Wednesday, September 12, an association called "Light on heritage" filed a complaint after discovering that two stained glass windows, belonging to the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, but missing for more than two centuries, had been sold at auction at Sotheby's in 2015.

The members of this association would probably never have imagined finding this piece of Notre-Dame de Paris, missing for 161 years, on the website of a famous auction house. Yet this grotesque story did happen. On September 12, reports Le Parisien, the association "Lumière sur le patrimoine" filed a complaint for theft and concealment of theft after discovering two stained glass windows, belonging to the famous Parisian cathedral, on the site of Sotheby's.

One of the two stained glass windows, sold at auction in 2015
Credit: screenshot /

These two works, measuring respectively 39.5 and 42.5 centimeters in diameter, and representing a ceroferous angel for the first, and a thuriferous angel for the second, had been "replaced during the renovation of the cathedral under Viollet-le-Duc around 1862", can we read on the description of the two objects.

More than a century later, the stained glass windows have found takers for 123,000 and 111,000 euros. With Le Figaro, Philippe Machicote, president of the association depositary of the complaint, shared his indignation. "The fight of the association can only be effective if we denounce the scandalous practices of auction houses which, in defiance of the law, yet particularly severe against the receivers of theft, squander with impunity what comes, among other things, from the public domain," he said.

Sotheby's claims to have respected "laws and regulations"

Philippe Machicote argues in particular that these two works are "national treasures, imprescriptible and inalienable since they were removed from a cathedral that already belonged to the State, and this, since the Revolution". Clearly, according to the association, these two stained glass windows are to be classified in the category of stolen art objects. Philippe Machicote summarizes the situation as follows: "The stolen originals were therefore sold in the 19th century and resurfaced 150 years later, drowned in a current sale of paintings, sculptures and old drawings, orchestrated by Sotheby's".


READ ALSO – Sotheby's auctions several thousand objects that belonged to Freddie Mercury

In an email sent to AFP, the auction house defends itself and certifies to have "respected laws and regulations". "Before offering a property for sale, we carry out all the necessary research, diligence and controls to ensure that no legal obstacle stands in the way of the sale," continues Sotheby's, ensuring that it has obtained "all the necessary authorizations from the competent authorities" and saying it is "at the disposal of the authorities to assist them in this investigation". The house also indicates that the two stained glass windows were not stolen, but indeed sold by master glassmaker Édouard Didron between 1877 and 1905.