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Architectural Project for the Church of the Madeleine
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Étienne-Louis Boullée
French, 1777 - 1785
Pen and gray ink and black, pink, and gray washes
21 3/8 x 28 1/8 in.
84.GA.53

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Étienne-Louis Boullée illustrated his love of pure geometrical solids in this design for part of a Neoclassical church: the spherical dome rests on the crossing of two cylindrical barrel vaults supported by an arcade of regularly spaced Corinthian columns. Classical details abound: coffering adorns the vaults, figurative sculptures fill niches in the wall, and tiny figures in togas carry fiery torches up to a pagan altar that belches smoke through the sacred space. Because of its expense and the impracticality of its vast size, this ambitious plan for the church of the Madeleine in Paris was never executed.

After becoming an architect instead of a painter at the request of his father, Boullée regularly managed to include small painterly details in his architectural drawings. Using gradations of washes, he effectively suggested the dramatic effect of sunlight entering through the central dome, illuminating the altar, and creating dark shadows behind the columns. The intricate details and atmospheric touches, combined with an accurate rendering of architectural finishes, suggest that Boullée used this drawing to communicate his ideas to a client.