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Ruins, c. 1802-04 (5)

Signed and dated

  • Main Year: 0


There are no (surviving) working drawings for the ruins at Pitzhanger, probably because they were always more of an aesthetic whim on Soane’s part. This group of drawings forms the earliest representation of the ruins and also shows Soane’s earlier personal perspective of them, before the failure of his familial hopes.

Soane was evidently greatly influenced by Piranesi’s engravings of Roman ruins. Indeed, he had many such engravings already in his collection by 1800. The Picturesque and Romantic nature of ruins can hardly have escaped him, but his primary motivation for constructing ‘ancient’ ruins in the grounds of his country house must have been for the entertainment of his guests and possibly for his own amusement at his guests’ reaction to them. As part of the reconstruction process, the solution that Soane proposed (described in a letter in James Spiller’s hand, 1802 - SM archives 7/G/4) was a ruin complex based around the form of the Temple of Clitumnus at Spoleto, which had a raised first floor door from which priests could preach. This explained the incongruous heights of the temple entrance and the triumphal arch.

Soane’s description of Pitzhanger in his 1833 Memoirs clarifies the purpose of the ruins: ‘One of my objects [in creating the ruins] was to ridicule those fanciful architects and antiquaries, who, finding a few pieces of columns, and sometimes only a few single stones, proceeded from these slender data to imagine magnificent buildings...’. Ultimately, Soane’s ruins had a picturesque value, an entertainment purpose and were an ancient reference point for his own architecture, but they were also a means of ridicule.

Matilda Burn 2010



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

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

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.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of Ruins, c. 1802-04 (5)