VIOLLET-LE-DUC, Entretiens sur l'Architecture, 1863 and 1872
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya


This image corresponds to an engraving from Entretiens sur l'Architecture, that Viollet-le-Duc Publisher in 1863 and 1872 (this is the 22nd plate).

There is no doubt that the aim of this drawing is to show the metal structure that supports the stone cupolas. Viollet-le-Duc has proportioned the line values according to the importance that each part plays for such explanation. Metal pieces are those which can be seen best. He draws two of them and decomposes one to understand its functioning better. This structure supports a combination of pendentivedomes, of square base, and octagonal based recessed domes, with two sides coincident with the nave walls. This part is at the top of the plate. In the lower part the pavement is shown and the image of some people that enable an understanding of the nave dimensions. The walls of this nave are "diluted" at this bottom part and even disappear into the background .

On the right side of the drawing, a few masonry pieces at the top and the trace on the pavement level, indicate the position of the wall, removed from the drawing, so that the interior could be seen. Obviously the point of view could have been moved towards the nave interior, so as to make visible the two inner faces of the wall, avoiding thus the need to remove it.However, Viollet-le-Duc’s choice allows displaying the trapezoidal spaces left between the square cupola and the wall and showing their roofing .

By the framing and the modulation of line strengths, Viollet-le-Duc focuses the drawing subject, so that the observer understands clearly what he intends to communicate. This is an example of the importance that selection has in a drawing. If the purpose of the drawing is an explanation, it is important to differentiate what is important from what is secondary, or even eliminate what may distract without adding anything to the subject understanding .

Although the drawing is not a text, with a fixed reading order that must be followed, the draftsman may condition the beginning of the drawing reading, attaching more value to such parts. In other drawings, Viollet-le-Duc also achieves a concentration on what seems to be most important. One of them is the 21st plate of this same book .

As if focusing with a camera, Viollet-le-Duc increases the definition in the closer parts and reduces it in the distant ones. He manages in this way to focus the interest on the metal structure of the V pillars. It is obvious that the perspective already contains the geometric data that allow distinguishing the closer elements from the distant ones, but the result is more effective in this way .

Another similar exemplary drawing is that by Otto Wagner, published in Einige Skizze · Projecte und Ausgeführte Bauwerk (sketches, projects and unbuiltbuildings), in the 1896 volume (plate 4) .

This is the Hernals Station façade, in Vienna, although it is clear that the drawing actually shows a plan previous to the building. We also acknowledge, by the value of contrast and vivid colour, which parts are closer to the spectator. The building is seen at a distance, without contour lines and with soft shading. Wagner uses here clear differentiating elements, so that the result is more effective .

The next drawing, of the same book, Volume IV, 1906, 14th plate, achieves the same result with similar resources .

  An image of the Vienna museum: the elements of the foreground, drawn with strong shadows and contrasts, and the background in a uniform tone .
  The result is similar to a drawing by Michelangelo, the Virgin and Child, on which the shadows of the child’s body, in contrast with the drawing of the Virgin’s body without relief, brings focus on the former .

Something similar to the previous drawing happens in the following one, by Joseph Kleihues.


In this drawing, the foreground is clearly differentiated from the background, by the contrast between the white and the uniform background tone. Moreover, in this drawing there is an interesting composition. As noted in the plan, Kleihues’ project is at the front following the road alignment, and continuing one of the church façades. This justifies the colour treatment and why the original building appears in the background, without contrast. Kleihues uses the plate to compose elevation and plan. This is why the façade fills the whole width of the plate and splits it in two parts. The colour of the façade ground is the same as that of the plan, where sectioned parts are drawn white. Thus, Kleihues manages to gather both projections, without causing any confusion owing to it.



Recommended bibliography :
- Viollet-le-Duc, Entretiens sur l'architecture, 2 volumes, 1863 y 1872.
- Otto Wagner, Einige Skizze · Projecte und Ausgeführte Bauwerke, 3 volumes, 1890, 1896 and 1906.

© of Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is assistant Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura del Vallès), UPC.
© by Monica Stoinea and Antonio Millán-Gómez: English translation

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