ARTYFACTS: Soane's Museum

Friday, January 12, 2007

Soane's Museum

London's best kept secret
After visiting this place, I'm always recommending it to London visitors. It's a treasure and a museum experience unlike any other. Just behind Holburn Tube Station on Lincoln Inn's Square it is a small but crammed 17th ecntury London Town House. He spent most of his later life collecting, rearranging and fiddling around in this house and what a place!

Room to roam
The first room has Greek vases and is a dark Pomeiian red but seems larger than it is due to the well placed mirrors. You then walk through two tiny rooms, his dressing and writing rooms, crammed full of marble fragments. The picture room has Hogarths, the famous Rake's Progress series (8) and An Election (4).
There's also a Turner and some Piranesi's. His yard is full of marble pieces but it is the Collonade and Dome that make your eyes dart up, down, left, right and behind. It's an obsessive collector's dream room. Everything crowds in on you so that it's difficult to concentrate on any one thing. This is why the place repays a revist or two. You always miss something. There's a further surprise in the second Picture Room where a fine collection of Canalettos can be found. I've never been fond of the architectural precision of Canaletto, especially when I discovered he used optical devices to get the compositions right.

Seti I's Sarcophogus
This is the wonderful bit - from the ground floor you can look down into the albaster sarcophogus of Seti I. belzoni brought this back from the Vally of the Kings, yet the British Museum showed little interest. Soame brought it and here it remains a transluscent alabaster masterpiece. The couour has gone but carved from a single piece of alabaster it has everthing - sculptural beauty, ornamentation, history and now a fantastically unlikely location - in the cellar of a house. What would Seti have made of this?


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