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  • image P275

Joseph Michael Gandy (1771 - 1843)

Design for a sepulchral chapel, 1827, intended as a Cenotaph to the Duke of York to be erected in the enclosure in St James’s Park

Watercolour on paper

Museum number: P275

Curatorial note

Soane office, design made in 1827 for a Sepulchral Chapel, intended as a cenotaph to the Duke of York to be erected in St James's Park opposite Horse Guards: perspective of exterior (see P282 for interior).

Frederick Duke of York, the younger brother of King George IV, died in 1827. To honour Frederick and the success of Britain in the Napoleonic wars, Soane proposed a sepulchral chapel to be built in St James’s Park in view of Horse Guard’s Parade. Soane’s design was worked up into this perspective drawing by Joseph Michael Gandy for exhibition at the Royal Academy (an interior view was also executed by Gandy, which can be dated to 12 December 1827; see framed drawing P282).

This watercolour depicts a funeral cortège approaching the sepulchral chapel which is surrounded by the mature trees of the park and close to its lake. Architecturally, the sepulchral chapel is a tour de force of classical, neo-classical and baroque elements, with a small nod to neo-gothic. The eight-stepped perron1 is flanked by projecting pedestals on which are sculptures each depicting a mounted English cavalry officer (probably of the Life Guards) holding a kneeling French infantryman at bay. The building has a Doric tetrastyle portico — doric is the classical order sometimes reserved for military structures — and a monumental entrance door sumounted by the royal coat-of-arms. The exterior of the nave is formed with convex baroque apses containing stained-glass windows. These feature what appear to be circular panels (subject indeterminable), which may be envisaged as antiquarian glass (16th or 17th century subject panels as used in Soane's own house), set within Soane’s signature narrow amber glass marginal panes. These seem to be shown with similar foliate scroll decoration to that used by Soane in various windows in his own house. A saucer dome supported by a drum and attic completes the superstructure of the chapel.

The rich architectural decoration includes architectural sculpture and a variety of mouldings. Caryatids support each window bay whilst the elaborate entablature includes a frieze with panels depicting fighting warriors alternating with triglyphs. Groups of Corinthian (greek) helmets are placed at each corner of the roof while sarophagi are placed above each pediment. The tympanum sculpture depicts an enthroned Britannia at the centre, surrounded by allegorical figures in a variety of postures: to Britannia's left stands a winged figure holding a trident standing on the prow of a Roman-looking ship. Lion-head motifs are embedded into the projecting cornice surrounding the the pediment and running around the exterior. Anthemion antefixes are fixed on top of the architrave of the side entrance which is flanked by Corinthian pilasters. A pair of lions en couchant flank the side entrance. Similar pairs of lions flank the steps to the main portico but aligned to face away from the steps. An over life-size statue of a man can be seen within the two outer left columns of the podium.

Around the drum of the dome is a procession of soldiers, some hauling cannon, some marching and some on horseback. On top of the dome is a circular plinth surrounded by a procession of winged Nike figures holding hands. On the plinth is a standing male figure, presumably Frederick himself, in classical dress and holding a scroll in his left hand.

The decoration of the chapel is designed by celebrate British victories on land and at sea. The sarcophagi on the roof and the large inscribed (illegible) Roman style funerary urns, possibly of alabaster, are burial motifs perhaps highlighting the sacrifice required during war.

The blue sky at the right of the scene illuminates the other architectural element, the eighteenth-century Clock Tower of Horse Guards Parade by William Kent and John Vardy. The locations, combined with the overly militaristic architectural and sculptural programme, gives the scene a geographical and historical context. Horse Guards Parade, the number of redcoats on disciplined parade, and those following as part of the funeral procession, and the militarism of the sculpture served to emphasize Frederick’s overarching role in professionalizing the British Army in the early 19th century for the Napoleonic Wars. Consequently, the sepulchral chapel celebrated the life and career of Frederick, whilst also acting as a national monument for the success and sacrifice of British troops against Napoleon.

Gandy’s execution is in three-point perspective, looking slightly up and to the right. Gandy use of landscape with trees, and the pool reflecting, rather sketchily, the chapel, does not overpower the scale of the monument.

Enough of the projections from the other sides are visible enable us to see the chapel had an external symmetry. The scale of the chapel is shown via comparison with human figures with the cortège, the head of the procession on the bottom step, and figures standing on the stylobate.

Soane saw the sepulchral chapel as an addition to his largely unrealized Processional Route for George IV for the State Opening of Parliament, punctuated by Soane buildings as outlined his ‘Design for Public Improvement in London and Westminster’. Nonetheless, Soane’s proposed Sepulchral Chapel was not accepted.

In 1829, an official competition for a memorial to the Duke of York was initiated with a budget by public subscription of £25000. The organizing committee ‘invited seven or eight of the most eminent architects to offer their suggestions and to make designs’ (Timbs 1835, 29). A smaller monopteral temple designed by Soane and drawn up by Gandy in 1829 (P270) was also meant as a companion monument in St James’s Park, and a sketched plan for a monumental entranceway to Horse Guards (M356; M357) was also forwarded. Nonetheless, in 1830 the decision was made for a 137ft 9inch (c. 41.99m) stone column by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, surmounted by a statue of the Duke of York by Sir Richard Westmacott to stand in Waterloo Place (extant).

1. The 'Perron' is an exterior set of steps and a platform at the main entrance to a large building such as a temple, church or palace.

We are grateful to Dr Roberto Rossi for his help with this entry.


J. Timbs, Arcana of Science and Art, Or an Annual Register of Useful Inventions and Improvements, Discoveries and New Facts in Mechanics, Chemistry, Natural History and Social Economy, 1835, pp. 29-31
J. Timbs, Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in the Metropolis with Nearly Fifty Years’ Personal Recollections, 1867, pp. 226-227
Arthur Bolton (ed.), The Portrait of Sir John Soane R.A. (1753-1837) Set forth in the Letters from his Friends (1775-1837) 1927, pp. 427-428
David Watkin, ‘The Royal Academician and the Public Realm’ in Margaret Richardson and MaryAnn Stevens (eds.), Sir John Soane: Master of Light and Space, exhibition catalogue Royal Society of Arts, 1999, pp. 38, 47
Sean Sawyer, ‘The Processional Route’ in Margaret Richardson and MaryAnn Stevens (eds.), Sir John Soane: Master of Light and Space, exhibition catalogue Royal Society of Arts, 1999, pp. 47, 258 no. 184
A Complete Description of Sir John Soane’s Museum (12th Edition) 2014, pp. 80, 81
Roberto Rossi, 'Sir John Soane and the competition for the Duke of York Monument', The Georgian Group Journal, vol. XXVIII, 2020, pp.189-210 (ill. fig.2 p.191)

Exhibition history

John Soane Architect: Master of Space and Light, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 11 September - 3 December 1999; Centro Palladio, Vicenza, April - August 2000; Hôtel de Rohan, Paris, January - April 2001; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, 16 May - 3 September 2001; Real Academia des Bellas Artes, Madrid, October - December 2001
Soane and Death, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 26 February - 12 May 1996

Associated objects

P282, same scheme
P270, same scheme

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