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  • image M821

Pilaster capital from the interior of the Pantheon, Rome

117-138 AD

Giallo antico marble (note: Vermeule in his catalogue identified it as Pavonazzetto)

Height: 46.5cm, maximum
Width: 52cm
Thickness: 5cm

Museum number: M821

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 61help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

Beneath a double-fillet, concave abacus, are two volute scrolls, curving outwards and with rosettes in the centres. The outer edges from the bottom are enriched with halves of profiled, flattened acanthus leaves, and between tow fully seen, similarly flattened leaves rises a foliate stalk terminating in a Rosette against the abacus

When the interior of the Pantheon was redecorated and restuccoed in 1747 by Paolo Posi, a number of these pilasters from the upper order were removed and fell eventually into the possession of foreign private collectors1. There are six companion pilasters from this source in the Towneley collection in the British Museum2 and the second century dating suggested by Smith is borne out by the choice of enrichment, centring around the outside volute scrolls. These are a signature of Hadrianic work both in Italy and to a certain extent Athens, and this carving belongs to the later years of that emperor or to the earlier of his successor (Antonius Pius, 138-161 AD). A stylistic parallel is presented by a pilaster capital found and preserved at Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli3 . These Pantheon capitals are without the strong Asiatic influence which permeates the decorative repertory of Hadrian's later reign and in this respect they may be said to follow the older imperial tradition.

In Plate XXVII of Raccolta de' Tempi Antiche, F(rancesco) Piranesi presents a reconstruction of the upper interior order of the Pantheon showing one of these capitals in its original location and in plate XII, a number of them are seen in relation to their settings. They were also engraved by A. Desgodetz in their original position and in detail4 . The probable reason for their removal can be judged by the broken condition of two examples from this set let into the right wall of Room II of the Museo Profano of the Lateran5, Rome.

Paolo Posi of Siena (1708-1776), the architect responsible for the "modernisation" of the upper interior of the Pantheon, should perhaps best be remembered for the vandalism involved in the dispersal of these capitals. His redecoration is in a sober, linear style in keeping with the remaining ancient and later work in the building. His other monuments in Rome, however, reflect the Italian baroque in its last and certainly unpleasant phases. Examples of particular tastelessness are the monument to Maria Flaminia Chigi Odescalchi (1771) outside the Chigi Chapel of S. Maria del Popolo, the monument to Cardinal Renato Imperiali in S.Agistino, and the redecoration of the Siena national church, S.Caterina da Siena6 (1767). See K. de Fine Licht, The Rotonda in Rome. A Study of Hadrian's Pantheon, Copenhagen 1968, p. 270, note 10

1 Ulrich-Walter Gans, Korinthisierende Kapitelle der römischen Kaiserzeit, no. 346, fig. 100 is one of these capitals, today in Schloss Glienicke in Potsdam, Berlin, pp; mentions collections with other Pantheon capitals pp. 180-181.
2 A.H. Smith, Catalogue of Sculpture in the department of Greek and Roman antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (1904), nos.2590-2595 and bibliography; photos in British Museum Greek and Roman Department File; see Dr. Thorsten Opper, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, Harvard University Press (published to accompany exhibition at the British Museum, 2008, in which a group of these capitals was shown); another example is in the collection of the Royal Academy, London, presented to them by the architect C.R. Cockerell in 1837.
3 P. Gusman, Villa Hadriana, p. 241, fig. 367.
4 A. Desgodetz, Les Edifices Antiques de Rome, volume I (1682, 1779 eds.), pl. XVIII.
5 A. Uncini: Due capitelli dal Pantheon nella collezione del Museuo Gregoriano Profano ex Lateranense, in: Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontificie, Bolletino Vol. VIII, 1988, pp. 55-63.
6 T.C.I. Guida, Roma, 1934, pp.269, 345, 381.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased at the Sir Henry Englefield Sale, Christie's, 6 March 1823 (purchased on the 3rd day, 8th March), Lot. 84, 'From the collection of the Duke of St. Albans', £1.10.0. Soane's capital was one of those purchased by Townley at the second sale of antiquities from the collection of Aubrey Beauclerk, 5th Duke of St Alban's at Christie's 29 April 1801 (see Yarker). Townley recorded his purchases in his diary and along with a sarcophagus he acquired 'a small terra cotta, & the 8 capitals in giallo from the Pantheon - the latter for Mr Blundell if he chuses'. This is Henry Blundell of Ince Blundell, then planning a new room based on the Pantheon. Yarker notes that Blundell evidently declined the offer, because six of the capitals remained in Townley's collection and entered the British Museum in 1805. One of the pilasters, listed as being of 'statuary marble' in the Christie's catalogue, eventually joined Soane's collection via Englefield.


Peter Thornton and Helen Dorey, A Miscellany of Objects from Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 1992, fig. 84.
Ulrich-Walter Gans, Korinthisierende Kapitelle der römischen Kaiserzeit, 1992, pp.180-181.
A. Uncini, 'Due capitelli dal Pantheon nella collezione del Museo Gregoriano Profano ex Lateranense', in Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontificie, Bolletino Vol. VIII, 1988, p. 58/59, fig. 3.
M. E. Micheli, ‘Disiecta membra del Pantheon:1747’, Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Communale di Roma 89 (1984)
Description of Sir John Soane's Museum, 1930, p. 93.
Jonathan Yarker and Clare Hornsby, 'A speculative Grand Tour excavation: Aubrey Beauclerk, Thomas Brand and Thomas Jenkins at Centocelle', The British Art Journal, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring 2011), pp.21-29 see p.26 and f.n.90.

Associated objects

M816, cast

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