An examination of papers found in an attic in 1999, and acquired by the Tate Archive, contain references to a hunchback sculptor working at Notre Dame during the time period Victor Hugo’s The Hunch Back of Notre Dame was being written.
Clues suggesting that Quasimodo is based on a historical figure have been uncovered in the memoirs of Henry Sibson, a 19th-century British sculptor who was employed at the cathedral at around the time the book was written and who describes a hunched back stonemason also working there.
The documents were acquired by the Tate Archive in 1999 after they were discovered in the attic of a house in Penzance, Cornwall, as the owner prepared to move out.
However, the references to a “hunchback sculptor” working at Notre Dame have only just been discovered, as the memoirs are catalogued ahead of the archive’s 40th anniversary this year.
The seven-volume memoirs document Sibson’s time in Paris during the 1820s, when he was employed by contractors to work on repairs to Notre Dame Cathedral.
In one entry, he writes: “the [French] government had given orders for the repairing of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and it was now in progress … I applied at the Government studios, where they were executing the large figures [for Notre Dame] and here I met with a Mons. Trajan, a most worthy, fatherly and amiable man as ever existed – he was the carver under the Government sculptor whose name I forget as I had no intercourse with him, all that I know is that he was humpbacked and he did not like to mix with carvers.”