Spring break is past now and it seems I have been all too lax in reporting my research findings. Prior to the break I took a trip up to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Division, where the original Clifton drawings are preserved and housed in cold storage. My appointment with Reference Librarian Marilyn Ibach resulted in the most incredible research session of my academic (and professional) career thus far. After 2 hours of carefully studying and inspecting the two drawings, I came away with such an immense feeling of fulfillment and respect for that opportunity. The drawings were absolutely incredible — especially the perspective. One simply cannot grasp the level of detail from reproductions in books. I took many pictures of both, front and back, and although I am not certain that I uncovered a spectacular clue to our mystery, I do have a much clearer understanding of the exactness of the site and detail imparted from Latrobe. (Click on the images throughout this post for a larger version.)
The inspection began with the back side of the Clifton perspective drawing. A handwritten inquiry “Belvidere?” was inscribed in pencil on the lower center portion of the paper, identified as staff notes. On the lower left corner were additional internal staff notations that we deduced were from the Conservation Division for Preservation, when the drawings were sent to be preserved. There was also some discoloration and staining (possibly some watermarking) along the right hand side from top to bottom. Otherwise, there were no pricking marks that I could detect (we did not expect to see any) or any surface disruptions that would have seemed original to the drawing. These details are hardly visible from any reproductions generally accessible in books today. Also hard to notice is the indication for use of square columns at the attached portions of the wings to the main building, while the two free-standing columns at either side are to be round. I also wondered if Latrobe envisioned a tumbled or more natural stone for the foundation of the structure. I detected some pink randomized splashes of color along that area.
On the front of the piece I could detect pencil underdrawing visible along the general lines of the slope of the landscape, horizon, trees and walkways. Latrobe did indicate modillions underneath and around the cornice line of the cupola, but none under the roofline of the actual structure. The cupola also displayed a neoclassical hanging garland motif. The level of detail in his depiction of the owners of the home and the town below the hill on which Clifton would sit was so intricate. In the carriage behind the house on the left side of the drawings he had actually placed a figure!
From Latrobe’s detailed illustration of the town below and Rockett’s we will be able to compare against maps and gain a clearer perspective of how he envisioned this site to relate to 1808 Richmond.
On the site map, curiously I was unable to detect any pricking marks here either, or again any surface disruptions that would have seemed original to the drawing. I spent a lengthy amount of time searching for anything that would resemble a prick. The drawings both had to remain flat as I examined each one, so I was unable to use the assistance of a raking light. But I used a magnifier and scoured every square inch of the back side of the site map drawing. There were a few very tiny spots about the size of a needle tip that I found, but they seemed more like random splatters than pricking and seemed unrelated to one another. I examined these spots as close as my human eye would allow and could not detect a broken surface in the spots.
However, there was an element of the site map that I was interested in. Along the left edge of the site map, something had been written in old hand. I presumed it was Latrobe identifying either the owner of the property, or some geographical identifier of the property, perhaps a road. Along the bottom, he had elegantly written “City of Richmond.” What had he meant to communicate along this left side? In examining how Latrobe handled the letter “H” without any curl to the end of the letter, we can likely rule out this word spelling “Harris.” I will continue to study his handwriting for clues to this rebuilding this word.
The staff in the Prints & Photographs Division was outstanding and so accommodating to my research during the appointment. Ms. Ibach was gracious with her help and expertise, as was Mr. Ford Peatross — recently appointed Director of the Center for Architecture — who stopped by to say hello. Several of his young assistants also stopped by to peek over my shoulder at the drawings and hear about the history of the commission and my research. So, a huge thanks to all of these fantastic people who played parts large and small in this exciting research appointment.
To view the entire album of digital photos taken of these two illustrations, click HERE.