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Working drawings and designs for niches, 2 June 1802 (2)


While drawing 197 shows the design for niches only, drawing 198 also indicates the Antique vases and a box-shaped cinerary urn intended for the decoration of the Breakfast Room. Helen Dorey's essay on Pitzhanger suggests that Soane designed columbaria to imitate those found in the Roman catacombs, for the Breakfast Room at Pitzhanger. As Summerson suggests, the columbaria (defined as a series of niches to receive the ashes of the dead contained in cinerary urns) were to contribute to the sepulchral atmosphere of the room, along with the sombre colour scheme (although the colour scheme was different in the designs to the built version).

The influence of this scheme came in part from a visit Soane paid to Thomas Hope's House in Duchess Street. Hope's collection was chosen and arranged along similar lines. The influence of the Villa Negroni (presumably through the engravings of Angelo Campanella) has also been noted by Bianca De Divitiis. Moreover, Summerson suggests that the columbaria evident in drawings 197 to 198 and 203 to 205 were based on bodycolours by Charles-Louis Clerisseau, of which Soane owned at least five by 1800. In Summerson's opinion, even the domed ceiling of the Breakfast Room is an upside down form of the domed lids of cinerary urns displayed within the columbaria (also seen in the canopy-domed caps of the gated entrance).


B. De Divitiis, 'New Drawings for the Interiors of the Breakfast Room and Library at Pitzhanger Manor', Architectural History Vol.48, 2005, p.165 H. Dorey, 'Sir John Soane's Pitzhanger' in Trackers, exhibition catalogue, PM Gallery and House, 2004, p.23 J. Summerson, 'Sir John Soane and the Furniture of Death', pp.135-137, The Unromantic Castle and Other Essays, 1990, p.126



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Working drawings and designs for niches, 2 June 1802 (2)