POETRY in THREE DIMENSIONS – the Sir John Soane Museum in London
The residence of an architect, the house of a visionary, the home of a dreamer of beauty. Walking from the crowded sidewalks of High Holborn in the overactive city of London leans toward Lincoln’s Hill Field a quiet park from where you find access to one of the most extraordinary museum houses in the world.
The Sir John Soane Museum, a place that brings us to the elements of our existence, those elements that promote thinking, meditation and appreciation of classical beauty. Thant beauty drawn from nature and its elements that have always inspired human being. The shape, the light and the quiet, here are interpreted in an extraordinary and surprising way.
It’s not so easy to describe the appearance and the atmosphere of this house, but to be more accurate, I must say that the many plaster casts and art objects don’t decorate the space but they ‘make’ the space. Articulated architectural elements, of which we can understand the mechanism only looking their design on the plans, are constructed precisely to hold the objects of art. With them also the light, which in heart of the house always comes from the ceiling, is designed and ‘led’ just to give merit to the beauty of the shapes and emphasize the atmosphere.
I began my visit in an unusual way, starting from the shady basement that contains the Sepulchral Chamber with the precious sarcophagus of King Seti I, bought by Soane in 1824 after being rejected by the British Museum because was too expensive. All around antique urns and roman cippi are located in the so-called Catacomb. Here the space is dark and leads to silence and meditation. A glimpse of the Monk’s Parlor is visible with its small casts and curiosity settled on the walls illuminated by a yellow light.
In the center of the area a beautiful waterfall of light surrounds the sarcophagus and all the numerous casts and marbles which adorning the walls and arches in elevation for three floors. Here the contrast of light and shadow as also high and cramped space are something extraordinary.
Going up using the narrow stairs the mood is enhanced by the magnificence and the light, which gradually increases, accompanies our excited in a kind of rebirth and race to the sky.
The Dome in the center is the main space around which develops the house. Here the decoration is fully rich and the diffused light dominates everything. The beautiful bust by Sir Francis Chantrey shows Sir Soane who, with proud and at the same time modest eyes, dominates satisfied his own world.
Each plaster cast tells its story and refers to the forms of classical romans, greeks and renaissance masterpieces right in neoclassical style. Aesthetic care is unequaled, starting from different patinas, always very fine and often original and never seen elsewhere. All casts are of excellent workmanship made from plaster piece molds or clay molds and rarely from gelatin molds.
In the dome area the light comes from the skylight and in all passages around there are skylights of a small size. Every antiquity to the wall and on the brackets receives a chiaroscuro effect that emphasizes the lines. Some additional skylights have yellow colored glass giving a beautiful effect of hot and cold light inside the space.
On the north-est side through a suggestive low colonnade with Corinthian capitals, you reach the Picture Room with beautiful paintings and extraordinary drawings. The colonnade supports a mezzanine which Soane used as a Student’s Room. Unfortunately I could not visit this room, because was closed, but I know it is very interesting for the beauty of light and the magnificent casts for academic use there conserved.
Here, on the south side are placed also the Dining Room and the large and richly furnished Library with the beautiful Pompeian Red walls. On the west side of the floor the Breakfast Parlour and the Entrance Hall with a very interesting replica of the Psyche of Naples in a brown patina and round molded base.
Climbing the steps of the elliptical staircase with its Terra di Siena walls you reach the First Floor and the most elegant rooms of the house, the North Drawing Room and the South Drawing Room with the Loggia which in the past was open.
The North Drawing Room has a huge stain glasses window with facing the Monument Court where stands a magnificent bust casted from the Farnese Hercules (original in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples).
The second floor on the top, with the Model Room, the Mrs. Soane Morning Room, the Bed Chamber and Tivoli Recess, is closed to the public but it is clear that hides many other treasures.
The overall impression is satisfying and the visit left a wealth of inspiration and invitation to the more knowledge of everything just views. Personally I wanted to go over again, backwards throughout the visit route because my thirst was not yet satisfied. Coming back I could better focus some areas with more reflection and I discovered new things extraordinarily interesting.
The permanence in the Soane’s house is not limited to a visit but turns into a real experience. A unique event that truly represents the best Souvenir you can take home from this city.
As a unique and precious gift Sir John Soane gives us the most intimate reading of his brilliant talent and his time, so as to make us find in a ‘nostalgic backbeat’ once out again on the street.
I’m pleased to sincerely thank the director Dr. Bruce Boucher who allowed me to take photographs, useful to my work, and offered me a beautiful visit in an enthusiastic and friendly way. This article is dedicated to him and his ability to honor his work.
I also thank Mr. Malcom Bowfield and the staff of custodians who kindly assisted me during my special visit.
Sir John Soane Museum
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP
All photos by Andrea Felice, 2017 and are published under permission of the Sir John Soane Museum Direction.