- Sir John Soane office drawings: the drawings of Sir John Soane and the office of Sir John Soane
Pierre du Prey, 27 August 2018
Since the late Jill Lever and I collaborated in 2009 on notes regarding John Soane’s copies of Luigi Trezza’s record drawings of Veronese and Mantuan buildings, much new information has come to light. She and I, Davies and Hemsoll, Carpeggiani, and most recently Lodi (writing in 2012, see Literature below), all missed another whole side of the Trezza story. Some clues, however, had already appeared in print, tucked away in Francis Russell’s 1997 entry on John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713 – 92) in John Ingamells’s Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy …, to which I simultaneously contributed the entry on Soane. Both of us authors mentioned Trezza; but neither found or put together the other’s piece of the puzzle in the densely information-packed Dictionary. Subsequently, after almost a decade’s delay in publication, Russell brought out his book John, 3rd Earl of Bute: Patron and Collector (see Literature). In it he provides a summary account of 15 elephant folio albums that Bute had assembled to contain a survey of Italian architecture, drawn by a variety of draughtsmen, mostly Italian (V&A E. 8-22 – 2001). The unusually architectural nature of Bute’s graphic booty from the Grand Tour was augmented with 14 cork models of ancient Roman monuments. The expert discussion of these models in an article by Richard Gillespie tipped me off about the existence of Russell’s book (see Literature). The albums, after leaving the Bute family collection by sale, belonged to Thomas Hohler, from whose estate they passed in lieu of inheritance duties to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which accessioned them in 2001. There they have languished, largely forgotten, due to an uninformative and largely unillustrated on-line catalogue; in effect little more than a check list as it stands. This mine of material, in pristine condition, merits and awaits scholarly digging into. A very cursory examination of the albums by me on 20 June 2018 established that they contain a good deal of information relevant to the Luigi Trezza sheet SM44/6/18, which Susan Palmer brought back to my attention the next day. I had forgotten all about it after my meeting with Jill nine years before. But my 2009 attribution of it to the hand of Trezza, based on style of execution, content, and format is borne out by comparable drawings in the Bute albums. None exactly matches the SM drawing, a revealing fact in its own right as I will discuss shortly. Before doing so, let me provide a short background history of the production of and raison d’être for the Bute albums.
As Russell points out in his book, Lord Bute’s two back-to-back Grand Tours, lasting from 1768-70, gave him the idea of amassing a representative collection of Italian architectural exemplars, worthy of emulation. In contrast to most British Grand Tourists, however, Bute was an independent-minded and architecturally discerning connoisseur who favoured late Renaissance and Baroque monuments as well as those of Antiquity. He particularly admired the work of Michele Sanmichele and Giulio Romano in the north of Italy. Among his suppliers of graphic material was the architect/dealer James Byres (1734 – 1817), long a resident of Rome. I will have more to say about him later. As concerns Bute’s purchases in northern Italy, he may initially have relied for advice on Joseph Smith (c. 1674 – 1770), up until his death an art dealer and sometime British consul in Venice. At least that is who an early Trezza biographer, Cesare Cavattoni writing in 1862, identified as the “raguardevole Personagio inglese” mentioned in a Trezza autobiographical note as the one responsible in 1769 for hatching the scheme to record Veronese and Mantuan monuments in a series of measured drawings (see Cargeggiani and Lodi in Literature). Other possible contenders exist. When I read the same passage by Trezza in Verona in 1973, I tentatively associated the “Personagio” in question with the Earl Bishop of Derry, Soane’s patron from 1778 until their abrupt rupture in 1780. Whereas I now tend to think that Bute should take primary credit for initiating the campaign, I may not entirely have missed the mark about Earl Bishop in the light of a secondary role we now know he played.
In 1770-71, while simply the Bishop of Derry, Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730 – 1803) followed on the heels of Bute’s Grand Tour. Pertaining to the Bishop, Sefano Lodi has recently illustrated 7 rare and hitherto unpublished engravings of the Sanmicheli’s Portas Palio and Nuova in Verona and the Porta Terraferma at Zara on the Adriatic coast. They were engraved by Cristoforo Dall’Acqua of Vicenza to drawings by the Irish architect Michael Shanahan, two frequent employees of the prelate. (In the early 1770s the pair of collaborators had similarly embarked on a book containing 30 prints of bridges, principally in Switzerland, at the Bishop’s behest and expense; another of his extremely rare, privately printed publications.) It therefore seems likely that Soane, who surely never saw the Bute albums in person, knew through the Bishop of the ongoing activities in Verona. Similarly, Soane could have got wind of the campaign from the Venetian architect Tommaso Temanza (1705-89). Soane seems to have taken his hint in late summer 1779 with respect to copying the cache of “old master” architectural drawings in the archives of San Petronio in Bologna. Temanza knew and wrote about them. He also corresponded with Trezza in the mid 1770s and received from him drawings of Sanmicheli buildings, according to Lodi. And the same author reproduces an undated broadsheet advertisement and a plan and elevation of the Porta Palio, drawn by Trezza and engraved by the Veronese master Vincenzo Mello. These three rare documents prove that an abortive Veronese publication project existed in competition with the one launched around the same date or earlier by Shanahan/Dall’Acqua. It seems likely that they used the measured drawings of Trezza and avoided duplicating his hard work. Soane was to do so again less than a decade later. Through one informant or another Soane knew in advance of Trezza’s record drawings and must have met him in Verona in order to access and copy them. As pointed out by Jill in her notes, the aim was again publication; this time on Soane’s part.
In my 1982 book, previously cited by Jill, I make mention of fellow countrymen of Trezza’s, like Giuseppe Torelli and count Giacomo Dal Pozzo, who may have first planted the idea of recording their architectural patrimony. These members of the Veronese intelligentsia could have also acted as intermediaries between Bute, his agents in Venice, and a youthful but unknown exact contemporary of Soane’s named Luigi Tressa (1752 – 1823); or, Aloysius Trezza as he styled himself on almost all his drawings in the Bute albums. No evidence exists to suggest that two architects by the name of Trezza were involved rather than the one who, around 1770, decided to adopt the non-Latin form of his name (see for example V&A, E. 19:9-2001, which is signed exceptionally “Luigi Trezza Archo Misuro e Disegno”).
On the matter of the chronology of the Bute albums I should mention that all the contents seem to date from 1769-71 with the notable exception of several drawings by Byres of the Villa Madama outside Rome and a ground plan of the Pantheon, which fall into the volume numbered V&A E.21-2001. Russell quotes correspondence of 1774 from Byres to Bute informing his client that the architect had experienced delays in producing the Villa Madama suite but was proud of the end result – as well he might be! These beautiful sheets are the latest additions to the albums, completed and bound sometime after that date. This did not stop Trezza from producing drawings on his own account. For example, his plan and elevation of the Villa Zani (now Passano) at Villimpenta near Mantua bears the date 1774, too late for inclusion in the Bute albums. Soane copied the version of that drawing which I illustrate as my fig 8.16 alongside the Trezza original. Carpeggiani (p. 28, nn 50-51) incorrectly claims that this Soane copy (SM45/2/2) is “di mano del Trezza.” The only drawing to which Carpeggiani’s statement applies in the SM is, to the best of my knowledge, SM 45/6/18, the drawing of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia that started the dialogue between Jill and myself. Interestingly, nothing I found in the Bute albums exactly corresponds to the drawing in the SM. Among those that do relate to the palazzo (V&A E.17:25-28 – 2001) the last sheet consists of detailed window elevations and moulding profiles, designated with letters of the alphabet, explained in a key at the bottom. In the Trezza drawing in the SM these details get relegated to the upper right corner and lack the key or the lettering.
Other discrepancies of presentation between the Trezza drawings for Bute, the one in the SM, those retained by Trezza in Verona, and the versions copied by Soane, are important to note. Without exception those provided to Bute rely on scale bars in piedi Veronesi or Mantuan bracchie. In other words, they lack admeasurements inscribed on them and hence have a tidier look. Trezza carefully drew them in pen and ink and applied delicate effects of shading with wash. The special significance of the Trezza drawing in the SM, it seems to me, stems from its semi-finished state of presentation. It may well represent an intermediary stage during which measurements taken on-site were recorded on a rougher drawing. For the benefit of Bute, Trezza removed information less valuable to a connoisseur than to an architect. In the interests of neatness of appearance, he then produced tidier versions, like those he supplied to Lord Bute, for inclusion in his own collection (Biblioteca Civica di Verona, MS. 1784). The preliminary master sheets, those hastily copied by Soane, seem to have disappeared entirely. The one in the SM may be a unique survival.
I hypothesize that Soane copied from a working set of Trezza drawings. He did so with enormous speed and tenacity, entirely by hand. I re-examined all the Soane copies and found no evidence of pin pricks that would indicate a mechanical means of transferring the information. With an amazing burst of energy he replicated as many sheets as he could by Trezza and, it must be added, by others too. The cross section of the Pellegrini Chapel in San Bernardino, Verona, that Soane made after Trezza, copies a drawing originally made by a co-worker, one Vincenzo Bernardi, according to the signed version in the Bute album (V&A E.18:20-2001). The same Bernardi, along with Gaetano Crevola (1706-92) took responsibility for a whole series of record drawings of the Giulio’s Palazzo del Te in Mantua, done prior to its restoration at the hands of the architect Paolo Pozzo (1745 – 1803) and therefore valuable as an historical record. Crevola’s ground plan is the first of these drawings and bears the date 19 February 1770. All or some of these sheets (V&A E.19:8-15- 2001) Soane claims to have copied in Verona in 1779-80 because he laments their loss to his students in Lecture V (Watkin, p. 560 “I made drawings some years since, which I regret are lost”). Apropos of the Lectures, Soane had a diagram of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia prepared (Watkin pl. 52, see Literature). The diagram of the complete, 15-bay façade cannot have derived from SM44/6/18 because the palazzo was not finished to Domenico Curtoni’s seventeenth century design until 1820. Furthermore, the draughtsman has omitted the 5-bay central attic storey, clearly shown by Tezza in the SM version and in his elevation in the BCV’s MS. 1784; a neater drawing and a fuller one that depicts the crenelated medieval city wall looming up behind the unfinished left half of the building.
Further research in the BCV, at the SM, at the V&A and perhaps elsewhere might answer lingering questions about the nature of Soane’s “Plan upon Verona”, as Rowland Burdon called it in a letter of 1780 to the architect. One thing seems clear: Trezza and his associates had underway a virtual production line when it came to record drawings. Publication projects were started by them, then abandoned. Drawings were sold as scholarly souvenirs to Lord Bute. Master sheets were copyied by Shanahan, Soane and maybe other, as-yet-to-be-discovered architects.
Paul Davies and David Hemsoll, “Sanmicheli through British Eyes” in English Architecture Public and Private: Essays for Kerry Downes, 1993; David Watkin, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment Thought and the Royal Academy Lectures, 1996; John Ingamells ed., Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701 – 1800, 1997; Francis Russell, John, 3rd Earl of Bute: Patron and Collector, 2004; Paolo Carpeggiani and Laura Giacomini, Luigi Trezza architetto veronese: Il viaggio in Italia (1795), 2011; Stefano Lodi, Michele Sanmicheli nei disegni di Luigi Trezza, 2012; Richard Gillespie, “The Rise and Fall of Cork Model Collections in Britain”, in Architectural History 60, 2017
Pierre du Prey, 2018
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.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).