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  • image SM 44/6/9

Reference number

SM 44/6/9


Measured drawing of the mid 1st century AD funereal monument known as La Conocchia




to a scale


A Capua vicino à Napoli.

Signed and dated

  • mid 1st century AD

Medium and dimensions

Pen, light blue, light red, gray, olive and cypress green washes, shaded, with double ruled and wash border on laid paper (510 x 365)


SOANE, Sir John (1754--1837)




Despite the careful gathering together of most drawings related to John Soane’s Italian Grand Tour, this beautiful and well-preserved sheet became separated from the rest and its significance escaped notice. Jill Lever knew that it once existed and formed part of a pair. In her entry on its mate, Soane’s plan and cross section of the Corsini Chapel in the Roman basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (qv SM45/2/23), she refers to previous published references by me (see Literature below) and to a conversation she and I had in February 2009 about the two drawings. Both were prepared over a ten-day period in London in 1780 at the expense of Philip Yorke, who commissioned them as mementoes of his own Grand Tour (partly spent in company with Soane). The total bill came to 7 guineas. The entry in Soane’s 1781-97 account book, or journal, describes the second, heretofore missing, drawing as “an Ancient Monument near/ Capua”. The inscription A Capua, written above the ruled border at the top left, agrees precisely with that description. And the building shown, moreover, corresponds to a tall, Roman-brick built sepulchral monument near there. Locals nicknamed it La Conocchia because of its resemblance to the tiered and molded shape of the distaff on a spinning wheel. Various eighteenth-century guidebooks singled it out for praise and even illustrated it. Architects like Charles-Louis Clérisseau recorded its appearance. Not coincidentally, perhaps, a gouache of it by the French artist was eventually purchased by Soane who installed it on the east wall of the recess in the Picture Room, where it still hangs. Despite this Walter L. Spiers, the Soane Museum Curator, mistook the drawing for the Tour Magne/Nimes according to the inscription he wrote in pencil on its verso. (I am grateful to Susan Palmer for identifying Spiers’ hand).

Soane’s elevation of La Conocchia differs from most of his record drawings done in Italy because of its highly finished execution in pen, ink and wash and its picturesquely drawn, if rather too symmetrically positioned, cypress trees set in a leafy landscape. In so complete an archive as Soane’s, however, the absence of any preliminary measured survey of La Conocchia – let alone of the Corsini Chapel – raises doubts as to originality if not authenticity. Were the buildings in question really measd [measured] by Soane on the spot, as his journal entry states? Or, considering the heights of the monuments concerned, did he avoid that dangerous and time-consuming task? Did he, as I suggested to Jill Lever, avail himself of existing record drawings carried out by others in order to copy them? These questions remain open ones. A heavily erased and indecipherable inscription, below the bottom center of the ruled border, might have provided a partial answer. But, as Jill Lever mentions in her notes to SM42/162 (qv), the Soane inscription on its verso reading Near Capua on the road from Ancient Capua to Caserta, certainly places him in the vicinity of present-day Santa Maria Capua Vetere. Furthermore, notebook entries record him there on at least two occasions: 29 December 1778; 12 March 1779. On the second visit he wrote quite extensively about the place without once mentioning La Conocchia specifically. Nevertheless, Philip Yorke took a fancy to having an image of it produced for him. Soane happily obliged. Both fair draw[ings], as Soane’s journal described them, have disappeared unless Yorke returned the originals to Soane in due course. Otherwise Soane must have made copies for himself, hence their preservation. Arbitrarily separated at some date, these twin drawings are now reunited after I serendipitously found the missing half on 21 June 2018.

P. du Prey, John Soane’s architectural education 1753-80, 1977, pp. 181, 478, fn. 136, 137; P. du Prey, John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, pp. 122-23; 354, fn. 45

Pierre du Prey, 1 August 2018


du Prey, 1977, pp. 181, 478; fn. 136, 137
du Prey, 1982, pp. 122-23, 354, fn. 45



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

Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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