Alfred-Nicolas Normand, Monuments of the Roman Forum at the Foot of the Clivus Capitolinus from the End of the Reign of Septimius Severus, 1852.

“Architecture, simply and immediately perceived, is a combination revealed through light and shade. of spaces, of masses, and of lines. These few elements make the core of architectural experience.” (p157).

Jean-Francois-Julien Menager, The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, 1809.

This quotation by Geoffrey Scott in his book, The Architecture of Humanism, concisely explains not only how we perceive architecture at its most basic level, but also indirectly explains the reason behind why I made this watercolor rendering of the Roman Forum. This was a project for an elective class on watercolor wash rendering during my master’s degree at Notre Dame, taught by Prof. David Mayernik, a master watercolor renderer himself. The aim was principally to understand how to render architectural form and clearly communicate spatial depth, not with one or two-point perspective, but with only shades and shadows.

Auguste-Jean-Marie Guenepin, the Arch of Titus, 1810.

He explained that much of the beauty found in drawings comes from the way shade and shadow are rendered, their value and hue. And as architects, learning how forms behave in light, how they cast shadows, and how to accurately depict this in watercolor renderings allow us to notice in real life how the sun creates subtle gradients of shadow to shade on buildings – on their cornices, capitals, and other moulding profiles – which in turn can aid our design process to create not just beautiful drawings, but more importantly, beautiful buildings


Auguste-Jean-Marie Guenepin, the Arch of Titus, 1810.

We were instructed to choose a Beaux Arts rendering of a façade or section and make a copy of it at the same size as the original. Since the Renaissance, making copies of drawings from a master was the classical way of learning to draw or paint because it was such an efficient method. However, it is not just mindless repetition, but an intellectual study of how the master achieved his result; in other words, the goal was to understand the process of how the final product was made. The Ecole des Beaux Arts watercolor wash method of rendering architecture was a highly precise way of depicting shades and shadows on built form that also produced very beautiful drawings, so these architects were considered the masters from whom we were to learn.

Constant Moyaux, the Tabularium and Monuments at the Foot of Capitoline Hill, 1866.

Skimming through the book Ruins of Ancient Rome; The Drawings of French Architects Who Won the Prix de Rome 1786-1924, I was immediately drawn to the rendering (above) of a reconstruction of the Roman Forum done by Constant Moyaux called The Tabularium Monuments at the Foot of Capitoline Hill (1886, 98cm x 128cm). For this rendering, he relied on reconstructions by others, but also added his own classicist interpretations. It is also interesting to note that he used coins from antiquity to inform his reconstruction, which shows the close relationships between these group of monuments on the east side of the Forum. He also produced a rendering taken from the same perspective of the current condition of the Roman Forum during his day, making a comparison between nearly two millennia.

Photo of the Forum by Author.


One of the angles used by the author to study perspective.

Since I chose Moyeaux’s rendering as my example, I had to think compositionally about how I could make just a portion of his full rendering stand on its own to create a balanced asymmetry, since the size of our rendering was to fit on a 22×30 inch sheet of watercolor paper. I chose the right side of his work which focused on the Arch of Septimus Severus in the foreground, the Temple of Concord in the middleground, and the Tabularium in the background, since that seemed to me to contain a variety of materials, textures, and a dynamic spatial layering of each monument that could teach me a lot of concepts in a single rendering.

The finalized draft by author.

After the lengthy drafting process (the inscription on the Arch of Septimus Severus itself took nearly two hours!), I began running washes, first the sky and then the stone of the Tabularium, working from background to foreground and from top to bottom.

Pushing the gilt bronze statue values.

Professor Mayernik suggested I work on the gilt bronze statues and really get them to the correct value with shade and shadow so that I could use that as a datum to judge how much I needed to bring up the other values of the rendering.

Rendering the textures and staining.

Next, I worked on the piquage of the stone on the Tabularium and the other textures, like the staining on the monuments. It was interesting at this point to realize that Moyeaux had decided to show some ageing to the buildings, which was contrary to the Beaux Arts standard of showing pristine buildings.

The extent of the rendering prior to the author’s hiatus.

I completed the rest of the basic colors and values of the monuments and that was about all that got finished during the semester and unfortunately was unable to work on the rendering for nearly fifteen months since I was in Rome, and at the time trying to finish my thesis and degree.

Intermittent updates over an extended period of time.

I didn’t start it again until last September and worked on it during the weekends for about a month adding shade and shadow. I started with the Tabularium and its dark arches because that would be the gauge to judge the rest of the shadows in the rendering, and then step by step worked down to the Temple of Concord and the Arch of Septimus Severus to get all the big shadows blocked in, bringing them up to their correct value in relation to one another.

The final rendering by the author.

Again, I put it away as we all get busy during the holidays. It was not until the beginning of July that decided that I was going to stop procrastinating the tiny shadows of the Corinthian capitals and fluting and the relief sculpture and just finish the rendering. I worked solidly that Saturday and Sunday and had only some finishing touches to add early that following week after work. Finally, after almost two and a half years, it was finished!

Highlights of the author’s final rendering.


Highlights of the author’s final rendering.