Letter from B. Henry Latrobe, Architect

Letter from B. Henry Latrobe, Architect  (1800) 
by Benjamin Henry Latrobe

From the National Archives and Records Administration; Record Group 128: Records of Joint Committees of Congress, 1789 - 2015; Series: Joint Committee Appointed to Prepare Measures to Honor the Memory of General George Washington, 12/19/1799 - 5/14/1800; ARC #306519

I do myself the honour to submit to you a design for the monument to the memory of Gen.l Washington, a sketch of which you have already seen, to request you will lay the same before the Committee of the Legislature appointed upon this subject and that you will permit me to make a few observations upon the ideas which have governed me in the choice of the plan.

It appeared desireable that a monument erected to the memory of the Founder of American Liberty should be as durable as the nation that erected it. Single statues either in marble, Basaltes or bronze, and indeed any species of sculpture is liable to injury and destruction, I believe not a single statue has come down to us from antitiquity uninjured in many of its most material parts, small projections very soon are broken off, by the wantoness of the spectators,—The statue of Wasn in the statehouse at Richmond has already lost several of its smaller parts. Bronze is not so easily broken but it has nothing but durability to recommend it, the utmost skill cannot render its appearance agreeable and the value of the material has in all revolutions devoted the bronze of ancient statues either to the purposes of money or to the manufacture of military implements,—More Roman marble buildings have been destroyed for the sake of the bronze cramps, than have been spared, and very few statues indeed remain. It appeared therefore to me more proper that I should offer to the Committee the designs of a building, the constitution of which should secure it, against the slow effects of time & weather as well as against violence, and which by the simplicity of its form and the plainess of its decoration should defy the criticism of fashion, to which all complicated works must submit,—as well as concord with the character of the progress in art which at present exists in America.

The building is a Pyramid, upon a base of 13 steps, of one 10 feet side & height It contains one chamber, 30 feet square, in the center of which is a plain sarcophagus or tomb & opposite the door a niche for a statue of the General. This chamber is lighted by 4 windows, arched, one in each side. The pannels may be filled by representations, either in bas relief, or friezed painting, of the principal events of the life of Washington. A Platform encircles the upper part of the Pyramids.

The material I should propose to be of granite, which abounds in the Potomac, the walls of the chamber and the columns of white marble, either from Pennsa or from the county of Loudon in Virginia.

The site which stuck me as the best, is an elevated spot on the bank of Potomak, in the federal City, where a fort is planned in the map of the city. As the spot is commanded from all sides, I presume no fort will ever be erected there.

With these remarks, I beg leave to submit my design to the Committee, and am with true respect

Your faithfull
(Signed) B. H. Latrobe, Archt & EngN to
the city of Philadelphia

Sketch of an Estimate for the monument
100 feet side

Plain stone work 55.000
Marble 12.500

The statue of Lord Rodney, erected by the Legislature of Jamaica was executed by Bacon for 1.000 Guineas, within its pedistal contained 4 Boss relivo's. Bacon, Flaxman & Banks are the best English sculptors, Hedouin, I believe the best parisian, Canova, not only the best Italian but I believe the first European artist.

(Signed) B. Henry Latrobe

Copy of a letter sent with the drawings of the monument for Genl Washington to H. Lee

April 24, 1800.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.