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Beacon of Progress

Major collection: Architecture & Design
Named collection: Désiré Despradelle Collection
Object type: drawing
Maker: Despradelle, Constant Désiré
Date made: 1893 - 1900
Materials: reprographic print; graphite; colored pencil; ink; board
Site location: Chicago, Illinois
Measurements: 27 1/2 in x 18 1/2 in
Plan type/view: detail perspective

Reprographic print of detail drawing of the base showing statuary and stairs with overlaid drawing.

The massive granite base of the Beacon covered an area of sixteen city blocks. It was both structural, supporting a shaft of 26 million cubic feet, and ceremonial, as a platform for spectacle. The monument was buttressed at the base by smaller obelisks that were layered in sculptural relief. With the narrative sculptural program of Trajan's Column as its model, Despradelle's base abounded in triumphal imagery. The main approach to the obelisk, rendered here, was guarded by serried ranks of colossal lions, like the pharonic protectors of ancient Egyptian tombs. Inscribed on trophy reliefs were the names of the states, and wall panels carried the names of great figures in American history. Like a Piranesian fantasy, Despradelle's atmospheric perspective is a bold architectural image that effectively expressed his grandiose vision. Conveying the prodigious scale of the monument, the image is not contained by the picture frame and the structure appears to have no perceptible limits, much like Piranesi's architectural fictions. Exhibited in the Paris salon and other international competitions, Despradelle's rendering was widely admired. An influential teacher of architectural drawing, Francis Swales, praised it for "methodical workmanship... and broad modelling [that] is so well distinguished under a cloak of inspirational sketching."

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