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image A92

Cast of the Taddei tondo by Michelangelo, in a rectangular frame

Plaster cast in a painted timber frame

Museum number: A92

Curatorial note

This unfinished marble tondo of the 'Virgin and Child with the Infant St John', c.1504-05, known as the 'Taddei tondo', is the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in Britain. It was made for the Taddei family of Florence and remained in their possession until the early 19th century when it is known to have belonged to Jean-Baptiste Wicar in Rome. Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827) purchased it in 1822 (with the help of Antonio Canova, the great neoclassical sculptor). After Beaumont's death it was given to the Royal Academy by his widow (1830) where it remains on display today (inventory no. 03/1774).

This cast was described in the 1837 inventories of Soane's collection as 'from the original in the collection of Sir George Beaumont and now at the Royal Academy', plaster. This description indicates that the cast was made when the original marble was still in the Beaumont collection. Soane's cast is shown in the newly finished 'Lobby' next to his Breakfast Room at 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields in a watercolour dated October 28 1826 (Soane Vol.82/119). This small space was created in c.1825 and it seems likely that Soane's cast was made especially for it, his cast-makers setting what was a cast of a circular original into a rectangular frame to better fit the position in which Soane intended to display it.

Sir George Beaumont was one of the leading amateur landscape artists of his day, frequently exhibiting works at the Royal Academy from the 1790s until 1825. Soane's first architectural teacher, his 'revered master' George Dance, remodelled Coleorton Hall for Beaumont in Gothic style in 1804-08. Soane would certainly have known Beaumont through Dance and through the Royal Academy but they do not seem to have been particular friends. Beaumont's frequent criticisms of the work of Soane's good friend J.M.W. Turner may be one reason for that.

It is interesting that the architect C.R. Cockerell, who succeeded Soane as architect to the Bank of England and knew him well, described seeing the tondo at Beaumont's estate in 1823 as a 'great treat'. He felt that that its unfinished state, with contrasting rough and smooth textures, did not detract from, but enhanced, his enjoyment of it. He noted in his diary that: 'the subject seems growing from the marble & emerging into life. It assumes by degrees its shape [and] features from an unformed mass. As it were you trace & watch its birth from the sculptor's mind as you would an animal from its birth, the chicken breaking thro' its shell. I have seen nothing but this that conveys the idea in the Greek epigram of a sculptor who says I have no merit but discovering the form which lies within the marble. One feels in beholding it to desire still to go on discovering, still to disclose more.' Perhaps Cockerell's thoughts on the sculpture may have inspired Soane to think of acquiring a cast.


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