Assessment / Dumbarton Oaks / Hagia Sophia / Robert Van Nice

The Draftsman

I have written a lot about Van Nice’s experiences in Istanbul and the fieldwork process, but little has been said about the hard work that only began once he was back in the States.  All of the material he collected at Hagia Sophia was funneled into two enormous elephant folio volumes of building plans and elevations, printed with the collotype process.  Given his dedication to the project, it is probably unsurprising to hear that he put an almost inhuman amount of effort and energy into making sure that this publication was as flawless as possible, from the design of the volume itself to the information contained within it.

The first volume of the printed plates. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

The drawings from which the plates were made were all done here at Dumbarton Oaks.  Van Nice had a drafting room for many years in the basement of the main house, where he and his assistants worked long hours perfecting each plan.  Ever meticulous, Van Nice kept careful records of the hours worked on each plate–some of which apparently took 500 hours or more to produce!

Van Nice’s drafting space, with assistants working on the plates. Robert L. Van Nice Collection.

The Van Nice collection contains many, many mark ups and drafts of the individual plates, which function like an artist’s studies for a painting; dozens of options for each image were considered.  It’s one thing to look at a finished product like the published plates and imagine all of the rigorous prep work that had to go into each image, but it’s another thing to actually be able to see and trace a good deal of that preparation.  Occasionally it makes the project more digestible, and other times the sheer amount of draft material makes it all even more dizzying.  I’m still not sure whether roughly five decades seems like too much or too little time to accomplish what Van Nice did.

Here are a few images of the drafts:

Robert L. Van Nice Collection

Robert L. Van Nice Collection

Robert L. Van Nice Collection

And some close up shots from the final product:

Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks.

The final plates reveal layer after layer of Hagia Sophia, from the outer brickwork to the structural bones.  Even though I’ve been looking at these images for months, I’m constantly dumbstruck that each individual windowpane, brick, and crack in the wall was done by hand!

2 thoughts on “The Draftsman

  1. Pingback: Behind the Scenes | The Robert L. Van Nice Collection

  2. Pingback: Behind the Scenes | Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives

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