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image Adam vol.56/146

Reference number

Adam vol.56/146

Purpose

Capriccio showing a view through a wide arch of two huge funerary urns and two small urns emitting smoke, with a staircase between them that leads to another arch and two buildings above this, one pedimented and domed and the other with colonades.

Aspect

Perspective

Inscribed

Inscribed in red ink 146

Signed and dated

  • Undated, possibly mid-1740s or c.1750.

Medium and dimensions

Red, black chalk, ink, brown wash 385 x 530

Hand

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Watermark

crossbow

Notes

This drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1728-1778) is the companion to that in Adam vol.26/163, and together they have been generally identified as the two drawings that Robert Adam had in mind when he wrote in a letter on 4 July 1755: 'whatsoever I want of him he will do for me with pleasure, and is just now doing two drawings for me which will be both singular and clever' (see Fleming Robert Adam and His Circle in Edinburgh & Rome (London, 1962), p.167). However, neither of these two Piranesi sketches would seem to match the special commission of being 'singular and clever', and that in Adam vol.26/163 is unfinished and was originally folded. Adam owned other Piranesi drawings and, in the sale of 1818 (Catalogue of A Valuable Collection of Antique Sculpture etc. R. Adam, Christie's, London, 21 & 22 May 1818), lot 28 of the second day, purchased by John Soane, contained works by both Piranesi and Charles-Louis Clérisseau (see Bolton The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 2 vols. (London, 1922), II, p.331). These two drawings may have come from this sale. The drawing here carries no numbering contemporaneous with Adam's time, only the red ink number of a later date; the other drawing is contained within volume 26, which is closely associated with James rather than Robert Adam, and which was bought by Charles Heathcote Tatham at the sale of 1821 (Christie's London Catalogue of the Effects of Robert Adam Esq. Dec. 9 July 1821 & following days). This drawing was probably placed in volume 56 on account of its funerary subject-matter, which complements that of the Adam-Clérisseau set whose sequence it concludes. The composition, building upwards from left to right by means of staircases, and the flamboyant use of wash, are typical of Piranesi's drawings of the Carceri of the mid-1740s, and the drawing may belong to this period (see Wilton-Ely Piranesi, Paestum & Soane (London, 2001), p.1, n.8). On the other hand, the watermark would suggest a date of c.1750.There is an attractive and large copy of this composition on tracing paper by C J Richardson (1806-1871) in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (P&D 93.G.8/59).

Literature

Rep. Tait Robert Adam, The Creative Mind: from the sketch to the finished drawing, catalogue of an exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum, London (London, 1996), p.21

Level

Drawing

Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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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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