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  • image XF386
Wardrobe, XF386. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London.


Wood with decoupage decoration using colour engravings on paper

Museum number: XF386

Curatorial note

This wardrobe and a matching glass-fronted bookcase, were amongst the furnishings of ‘The Camels’, the south London home of Joseph Bonomi (1796–1878). Bonomi was a sculptor and Egyptologist who was Curator of the Museum from 1861 until his death in 1878. He travelled widely in Egypt when he was young, adopting eastern dress and manners, before returning to England in the 1830s and taking up employment with the British Museum and others. In 1842 he designed a striking Egyptian-style façade for John Marshall’s Temple Mills at Leeds, based on the temple of Edfu, which later enabled him to claim that he was an architect and to be appointed to the curatorship of Sir John Soane's Museum. As Curaotr he devoted himself particularly to the study of the Seti sarcophagus, of which he published a detailed account in 1864. The curatorship gave him a regular income and enabled him, with his brother Ignatius, to buy land at Wimbledon Park, Surrey, and build ‘The Camels’, which he adorned with a frieze of a camel caravan representing the path of life – sculpted by himself.

The two pieces of furniture from Bonomi’s home now in the collection demonstrate what a treasure trove ‘The Camels’ must have been. Bonomi was never wealthy and he probably decorated both pieces of furniture himself. The wardrobe is adorned with images from Greek vases probably cut from a copy of Sir William Hamilton and Baron D’Hancarville’s Antiquités étrusques, grecques et romaines (4 volumes published 1767–76) – one of the most influential publications of the period. These images are somewhat incongruously combined with the ancient Egyptian winged sun-disc painted above the doors. This motif is thought to have symbolized the flight of the soul to Higher realms – the sun being the symbol of light and enlightenment
and therefore of resurrection and rebirth.

Provenance help-art-provenance

By descent in the Bonomi family. Given to the Museum 2008.

Associated objects

XF385, group

The gift of an anonymous donor, 2008

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