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François Fouquet (1787 - 1870), maker

Model of the ancient Roman Portico of Diocletian (or Exchange) at Palmyra, Syria, 'restored', c.1800-1834

Plaster of Paris

Height: 20cm
Width: 51.7cm
Depth: 22.4cm

Museum number: MR23

Curatorial note

This model is based on the so-called Portico of Diocletian (also referred to as the 'Exchange') at Palmyra, as reproduced in plates VIII and IX, Vol. I, of the French architect Louis Cassas’ Voyage pittoresqque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palestine et de la Basse Aegypte. Fouquet has, however, modified Cassas’ ground plan and considerably shortened the rear apse section of the central structure of the Portico. Fouquet, following Cassas’ lead, has misidentified the building. Today, the ‘Portico’ has been identified as part of 'Diocletian’s Camp', an area of the city of Palmyra rebuilt by Sosianus Hierocles, Governor of Syria under the Emperor Diocletian (284-305), following the sack of the city by Roman troops in 273 AD as a result of the earlier revolt led by the Palmyrene Queen Zenobia. The so-called Camp of Diocletian was built between 284 and 305 AD to house the Roman legion stationed in the city. It included what has now been correctly identified as the Temple of the Signa (Temple of the Standards) which Fouquet and Cassas identified as the Portico. The most characteristic elements of the Temple, built upon a raised platform, have been reproduced by Fouquet in the model of the ‘Portico’: the monumental flight of nineteen steps leading up to a portico of four Cortinthian columns supported by plinths and the apse with niches (just visible through the doorway of the cella) in which were kept the Legion’s standards or signa.

However, both Cassas’ conjectural reconstruction of the building and Fouquet’s model upon which it is based depart quite significantly from what is now known about the building as a result of archaeological investigation. Apart from correctly identifying the building’s true function, modern reconstructions show that the central part of the structure was not flanked by two wings of open colonnades but by the plain walls of a large transverse hall that lay behind the portico of the Temple. This hall opened on to a series of further smaller administrative chambers at the rear, accessed through pillared entrances. Little of this now remains, though the staircase, parts of the entrance portico and a section of the apse still stand. The extent to which Fouquet’s model of the ‘Portico’ diverges from what is now archaeologically known about the Temple of the Signa illustrates how far such late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century reconstructions were based upon conjecture – the reason why they fell out of favour as didactic tools in the later nineteenth century! In spite of this, the model of the Portico at Palmyra is one of Fouquet’s most beautiful creations. This model, like the on of the Monument at Mylasa MR15, is inscribed on the rear, giving the scale 1 to 12 feet.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Sir John Soane purchased the twenty models by François Fouquet in 1834 from the architect Edward Cresy (1792-1858) who, from 1829 to 1835, worked in Paris. Soane paid Cresy the substantial sum of £100 (£10,136.78 in today’s money). It is likely that Cresy purchased the models directly from Fouquet et Fils.

Exhibition history

Wonders of the Ancient World: François Fouquet's Model Masterpieces, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 15 July - 22 November 2011


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