Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Artful Surprises

Sir John Soane's Museum is small but full of curiosities and surprises. The Museum is in the house and library of Soane, who was an architecture and therefore knowledgable and skilled to combine three houses (Numbers 12, 13, and 14) in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Beginning in 1792 and proceeding in phases that ended in 1824, Soane created his ideal gallery for the display of his collection of curios. 

And what a collection it is! An avid collector, Soane amassed items ranging from Greek marbles and bronzes, Roman jewelry, medieval sculptures, and Renaissance paintings. On display (but I won't say where so as not to ruin the surprise for those who haven't visited) are two series by William Hogarth - "The Rake's Progress" and "The Election." There is even the sarcophagi of Seti I. Soane hosted a party that lasted three days just to showcase this acquisition. Soane had an entire room devoted to architectural models, even his own, which include the Bank of England and models of ancient Roman and Greek buildings. And as any bibliophile will appreciate, there are walls of bookshelves. Soane even turned the pillars of the drawing room into bookshelves. 

Upon his appointment at the Royal Academy as Professor of Architecture in 1806, Soane arranged his books, casts, drawings, and models for the students. He proposed that he open his house for the use of the students before and after his lectures, starting Soane down the path of converting his home into a museum for others to view and learn. 

In 1833, Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to settle and preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. The Act went in to effect on his death in 1837, vesting the Museum in a board of Trustees who were to continue to uphold Soane’s own aims and objectives. A crucial part of their brief was to maintain the fabric of the Museum, keeping it ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state’ in which it was left at the time of Soane’s death in 1837 and to allow free access for students and the public to ‘consult, inspect and benefit’ from the collections. Since 1837, each successive Curator has sought to preserve and maintain Soane’s arrangements as he wished. 

Soane clearly believed that there wasn't any point in acquiring anything that he couldn't display, so every surface, wall, and ceiling is adorned with artifacts and artworks. The wonderfully stylish clutter takes you through centuries and cultures, each turn revealing a new surprise. 

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