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Unfinished presentation drawings, and working drawings for a large epergne, c1781 (8)


An epergne is typically a small arrangement of silver baskets or bowls, intended to hold sweetmeats or flowers, and to sit on a table top. This design, although inscribed, and generally referred to as an epergne deviates from this, as it incorporates a canopied table, as well as the more usual elements of an epergne, and appears to comprise a temporary structure for a specific event.

There is no evidence as to whether this epergn was executed, and it is uncharacteristically ostentatious for Mansfield. It has previously been claimed that it would have been made of silver, but Harris disagrees, and suggests that it was more likely a temporary structure of painted metal and glass, erected in 1776 to celebrate either Mansfield's elevation to an earldom, or the marriage of Mansfield's nephew and heir, the 7th Viscount Stormont, to Lady Louise Cathcart, which was held at Kenwood. From observation of Adam volume 49/29-30, Julius Bryant has suggested that the epergne was intended to be constructed with painted foil under glass, as in the glass drawing room from Northumberland House, part of which is now in the V&A Museum. If this epergne was indeed a temporary structure it might be compared to Adam's temporary pavilions erected in the central court at Syon in 1768.

It is worthy of note that the colour schemes vary between the two unfinished presentation drawings (Adam volume 49/29-30), the first three working drawings (Adam volume 5/83-84 and 79), and the second three working drawings (Adam volume 5/80-82). If the structure was executed there is no indication of which colour scheme was used. Moreover, it is possible that the working drawing details preceded the unfinished larger drawings as the guilloche in Adam volume 5/79 is only partially introduced, but again the facts of the matter are unknown.



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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 Unfinished presentation drawings, and working drawings for a large epergne, c1781 (8)