François Soufflot le Romain: Ruins

François Soufflot le Romain (1750–1801), section, survey of Temple of Minerva, Rome, 1778. Black ink and grey and red washed, with black pencil detailing on paper, 550 × 445 mm. DMC 1099.

This drawing, commissioned by Jacques-Germain Soufflot from his nephew in Rome, for presentation to his colleagues at the Académie Française, vindicates the revolutionary structural principles on which his own church of St Geneviève was then being slowly constructed in Paris. It does this by establishing a direct comparison with the ancient Temple of Minerva which, although in ruins, was still standing centuries after its construction.

The minutes of the Académie on the day recorded dryly that the company viewed M. Soufflot’s drawings ‘with satisfaction’ and ‘encourage[d] him to continue his researches into any other singular constructions, both ancient and modern, from which useful knowledge of architecture might be gathered’.

At Soufflot’s death in 1780, two years after this presentation, the vaulting of the naves of the church was barely complete and the great technical questions that surrounded the weight of the dome were still the subject of much controversy in Paris.