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Studies for decoration by Giuseppe Manocchi, date range: 1765-66, unexecuted (166)

Signed and dated

  • 1765-66


Giuseppe Manocchi (c1731-82), a gifted draughtsman from Rome, is thought to have been employed by James Adam (1732-94) during his Grand Tour (1761-63) to make studies of Italian architecture. There are 86 drawings in volume 26 of the Adam drawings collection at the Soane Museum, which have been attributed to Manocchi by Tait, and date from James's Grand Tour. These drawings are similar in style and colour to the 166 drawings in Manocchi's hand from the time he spent working in the Adam brothers' London office. The Adams' Drummonds bank account shows that Manocchi was in their employ by 1765, but it is not known if he returned directly with James in 1763, or if he arrived independently. We do know that he returned to Italy - deeply dissatisfied with the Adam brothers' treatment of him - in 1773.

Manocchi's role in the Adam office is unclear. He certainly contributed to the daily output of drawings for clients - and these drawings can be found catalogued under the relevant buildings - but this collection comprises a separate group of drawings for which there appears to have been no particular patron. Rather, these drawings are ornamental: for grotesque panels, ceilings and carpets, some being copies or deeply inspired by the unpublished drawings of Pietro Santi Bartoli and Francesco Santi Bartoli held in the library at Eton College, and from his memories of Raphael's loggia at the Vatican. There is no evidence that any of these drawings by Manocchi were executed. Many of the drawings are signed by Manocchi, something the Adam brothers usually forbade their draughtsmen to do. Indeed, the minute scale of these signatures may have been an attempt to conceal them, and various examples have been scratched out, leaving only very feint lettering. Four payments, totalling £134, were made from the Adams' Drummonds account in 1765 and 1766, being a far greater sum than the standard salary of a draughtsman - even one as talented as Manocchi - and it is assumed that this payment was, at least in part, for the beautiful collection of drawings found here.

These drawings make use of a vibrant palette of primary colours, often further emboldened by the use of gouache rather than standard watercolour, being much darker than the typical colour schemes of the early Adam office style. It is generally agreed that Manocchi's principal influence over the Adam style was this use of richer colours, and from the mid-1760s onwards - coinciding with the time that Manocchi is known to have been in the Adams' employ - there was a shift in the office's use of colours in imitation of Manocchi's drawings. Stillman notes that the interiors at the Drury Lane Theatre, Mistley Hall, Derby House and Osterley are excellent examples of this. Manocchi-s own understanding of colour appears to have been the result of his study of antique and Renaissance architecture in Italy, as we can see from the drawings he made during James's grand tour.

Ignored by Bolton in his 1920s index of the Adam drawings for Country Life, the drawings in Manocchi's distinctive hand, which serve no particular architectural projects, are only listed in Spiers's hand list of the Adam volumes. Further drawings by Manocchi - most likely dating from his time in London - can be found in the RIBA, the V&A Museum, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a folio of Manocchi drawings is listed by Harris in A catalogue of British drawings for architecture, decoration, sculpture, landscape gardening 1550-1900 in American collections.

J. Harris, A catalogue of British drawings for architecture, decoration, sculpture, landscape gardening 1550-1900 in American collections, 1971, p. 136; W.L. Spiers, Catalogue of the designs and drawings by Robert and James in Sir John Soane's Museum, 1979, pp. 11, 28; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 42-43; A.A. Tait, Robert Adam: drawings and imagination, 1993, pp. 90, 94, 97-101; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, p. 2; A.A. Tait, The travel drawings of Robert and James Adam online catalogue, 2007-2008, Adam volume 26; A.A. Tait, The Adam brothers in Rome: drawings from the grand tour, 2008, p. 126; A. Aymonino, L. Gwynn, and M. Modolo, Palper palaces: the Topham collection as a source for British neo-Classicism, 2013, pp. 16-39

I am grateful to Dr Adriano Aymonino for his advice regarding Manocchi's reliance on the Bartoli drawings in the Eton College library.

Frances Sands, 2011



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Contents of Studies for decoration by Giuseppe Manocchi, date range: 1765-66, unexecuted (166)