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Section of a concave frieze and architrave known as 'The Bessborough frieze'

69-96 AD

Pavonazzetto marble

Height: 52cm
Length (inner edge of concave curve): 200cm, approximately
Thickness: 7cm

Museum number: MC19

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 106help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

This section is a continuous segmental frieze and architrave, broken in three places. The central motive consists of two vases side by side flanked by two griffins whose hindquarters terminate on acanthus frieze scrolls, the scrollwork panel on the right only being preserved. Fillet moulding above and a high relief fillet separates the frieze and architrave. It is perhaps the frieze of an exedra or the interior of a small circular building.

In Andreas Coner's sketchbook1 there is a drawing of a circular entablature now lost, which is thought by Ashby to have belonged to one of the circular halls of the Baths of Agrippa, as restored in the Flavian period and which was seen in the house of the Porcari family in the area during the Cinquecento. The arrangement, enrichment, and dimensions of the frieze as shown in the drawing would seem to indicate a similar period and association for the Bessborough frieze fragment. The unenriched architrave indicates no such elaborate carving as that drawn by Coner and the Sixteenth Century artist of Windsor (Royal Library) Inv. 10, 797.

The first image of the piece in Soane's collection is a glimpse of it on the floor of the basement in J.M. Gandy's view of the Dome Area drawn in 1811, SM P384 (under the north arch). Soane later displayed this piece outside, at the north end of the Monument Court, from at least 1819 (see section through courtyard SM Vol. 83, 3). It is possible that it was put into this position when the courtyard was created in 1812-13. In all views of the courtyard made during his lifetime it appears to be on the stone coping on the north side of that courtyard (SM Volume 83, 3 and SM P86), rather than down on the roof behind the parapet as it was by the mid 20th century. It has now been removed to prevent further erosion and is in store: it is hoped to replace it outside with a copy. [Final paragraph Helen Dorey, 2011]

1 The Codex Coner, SM Volume 115; T. Ashby in Papers of the British School at Rome, II, p. 49; VI, 205 ff., no. 98b.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased at Lord Bessborough's Sale, at Roehampton (Christie's), 7 April 1801, Lot 23, Fragment of a Frieze, (in 3 parts) ornamented with a Griffin, Vase, Lizards, Foliage, &c. &c. and a Compartment of a Ceiling; (the second item, the compartment of a ceiling has not been identified). Soane bought it for £10.10.0.

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