Bank of England architecture
“Many of the most serious disappointments that attend those who build would be avoided if models were previously made of the edifices proposed to be raised, ” he said in a lecture at the Royal Academy in 1815.
“No building – at least none of considerable size or consequence – should be begun until a correct and detailed model of all its parts has been made.”
Soane, a neoclassicist, had his office in his home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields near Holborn, which is now a museum of his work.
But the room on the second floor of the building where he displayed his collection of miniature models was taken apart after his death, and much of the collection kept in storage.
Now the museum is to restore the collection – the largest of its kind – and unveil it to the public next year.
It includes 14 miniature cork models that replicate ruins of some of the best-known ancient buildings and other archeological sites in Italy.
The use of cork for creating models of ancient structures had been popular since the 16th century, because the texture of the material is similar to that of weathered stone.
The work of cork model-makers such as Domenico Padiglione, who was based in Naples, was brought to Britain by wealthy travellers as souvenirs of their trips. For Soane, who bought them at salerooms in England, they served as a reminder of his own Grand Tour of Italy between 1778 and 1780 and acted as teaching aides in his role as professor of architecture at the Royal Academy.
The cork models include a large model of Pompeii which belonged to his first pupil, John Sanders.
They contrast sharply with a collection of pristine reconstructions of classical buildings and monuments acquired by Soane in 1834. The 20 plaster models were made by the Parisian model-maker François Fouquet between 1800 and 1830.
They include reconstructions of the Roman Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy, the Parthenon in Athens and the Tomb of Mausolus built at Halicarnassus, now Bodrum in Turkey.
The models created for Soane’s own architectural practice were mainly made of wood. They included a lime wood model of Tyringham, a country house he built for William Praed, a banker and MP, between 1792 and 1800.
In total, 44 models were created for the Bank of England, Soane’s first major commission and his best-known work.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Abraham Thomas, the museum’s director, said: “The models … are powerful, compelling gateways to other architectural ideas and concepts, to other far-flung sites around the world and across time periods ranging from the ancient world to the contemporary setting of Soane’s Regency world.”
Some of the models on show
Temple of Vesta
The Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy was Soane’s favourite ancient building, the ruins of which he said “present an idea of peculiar elegance and rich taste”. This is a cork model made by Giovanni Altieri in the 1770s.
Temple of Zeus or Apollo
(the so-called Temple of Neptune or Poseidon)
The temple was built in Paestum, then in ancient Greece, around 450 BC, about the same time that the Parthenon in Athens was constructed. It is considered one of the best preserved Doric temples. Soane began to incorporate the early Greek Doric designs into his work from 1779.
The Arch of Constantine
One of 14 cork models acquired by Soane of ancient ruins. The Arch of Constantine stands between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill in Rome, where it was built in 315 to mark Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. It acted as an inspiration for the facade of Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor House in Ealing, west London.
Bank of England
This painted wooden model was created as one of 44 for Sir John Soane’s first major architectural commission, the Bank of England. Crafted in 1805, it shows the north-west corner of the bank, which he extended to form the “Tivoli Corner”, based on the ancient Temple of Vesta.