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Italy: Trusses for roofs, February 1780 (11 on 6 sheets)

Signed and dated

  • 1780
    Main Year


There are 11 drawings on six uncut sheets of Italian-made laid paper of the same size; the medium is the same for each drawing and both sides of each sheet (except for No.6 of which the recto only was used) have traces of the red sealing wax used to fix the sheet to the drawing board; there is some minor pricking for transfer. The drawings are all drawn to a scale, indeed a variety of scales some of which are labelled English feet and in one case (drawing 10) English and French feet. Where bar scales are drawn it can be seen that some of these relate to the equivalent of 2/9 and 1/3 inch to a foot. Others are 1¼, 2¾ and 3¼ inches (as well as 1 and 3/10, and 1 and 6/10) divided into 10 parts. The evidence shows that these are all copies of measured drawings of Italian, wide span timber (with metal hangers, ties and straps) roof trusses made at about the same time around February 1780 (No.9 dated thus). P.du Prey (John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, pp.156-60) wrote that there are a group of drawings in the Museo Correr, Venice that relate to Soane’s roof truss drawings. These were drawn by the Venetian architect Giannantonio Selva (1753-1816) who was in Rome at the same time as Soane. The likelihood is that both made copies from variant sets of drawings of roof trusses drawn to an Italian scale. Useful identification comes from the RIBA Drawings Collection where there are six sheets of drawings of roof trusses of Italian buildings including: Argentine Theatre, Theatre of Bologna, Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli, Church of San Paolo fuori le Mura and Church of Sant' Andrea dell Valle. Two are inscribed 'From a drawing by a Spanish artist at Rome by C.H.Tatham 1795' and one similarly but with the date 'Jan. 7 1796'. Thus Tatham copied 'a Spanish artist at Rome - apparently Don Isodoro Velasquez, who studied in Rome with Tatham from 1794 to 1797.' (J.Lever, editor), Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects, T-Z, 1984, p.183) Of the roof trusses copied by Soane, it can be said that they are all from buildings constructed before 1780 and relate to four theatres and four churches and that most are queen post trusses.



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Italy: Trusses for roofs, February 1780 (11 on 6 sheets)