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Foliate 'palm-leaf' capital of an engaged column

Ptolemaic, probably c.150 BC

Limestone or marble

Height: 61cm, maximum
Width: 58cm

Museum number: M76

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 35help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Museum Corridor - outside the Picture Room
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

The right three-quarters of a semi-circular palm-leaf capital of an engaged column, enriched with stylized, bunched water reeds with flat palm leaves behind.

In a Ptolemaic style, popular in Egypt about 150 BC. There are parallels in the Michaelangelo Cloister of the Terme [Museo Nazionale Romano, Terme di Dioclezian, Rome] and the Antiquario Communale - the former being an example, like this one, possibly recut for use as a flower pot in post-antique times.

This particular capital, with the broken left side restored in the drawing, is illustrated by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) with six other architectural fragments of varied sorts in Trofei di Ottaviano Augusto [Trophies of Octavian Augustus], 1753, where the inscription describes it as '7. Capitello di maniera greca giacente vicino all'Arco de' Pantani. Questo Capitello è vestito di varie foglie, parte delle quali sembrano di palma/ con alcuni frutti simili a quelli di quercia' [trans: 7. Greek-style capital lying near the Arco de 'Pantani. This Capital is dressed in various leaves, some of which look like palm trees / with some fruits similar to those of oak] (Wilton-Ely No. 274). This arch is adjacent to the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus (which lies between today’s Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Tor di Conti) and is one of two Roman triumphal arches built by the Emperor Tiberius in 19 AD and dedicated to his nephew Germanicus and his son Drusus. Owing to regular flooding in the area during the middle ages the arch on the south-east side of the Forum became known as the Arco dei Pantani (pantano in Italian means marsh or swamp). In his catalogue entry for this capital Professor Cornelius Vermeule did not cite the location Piranesi gave for this fragment and wrote that given its its Roman provenance, 'this capital is probably from one of the Temples to the Egyptian divinities in the Campus Martius and neighbouring areas - buildings which were executed in a Graeco-Roman Egyptian style'.

This capital probably passed either directly or through the medium of Piranesi's circle from the owner of the land to the Scottish architect Robert Adam, who like his fellow architect Henry Holland (for whom many of the antiquities now in Sir John Soane's Museum were collected in the 1790s) knew the value of antique fragments and casts for study. Adam left Britain bound for Italy in October 1754, arriving in Rome in February 1755, and returned to London in late 1758.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased by John Soane at the Robert Adam Sale (Christie's) 22 May 1818, Lot. 92 Part of a capital in Egyptian taste, very curious £2.2.0


A. A. Tait, Robert Adam, The Creative Mind: from the sketch to the finished drawing, exhibition catalogue, (London, 1996), cat no. 69.
John Wilton Ely, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, San Francisco, 1994, no.274, p.322 [for the Piranesi etching showing M76]

Exhibition history

Robert Adam, The Creative Mind: from the Sketch to the Finished Drawing, Sir John Soane's Museum, 4 October 1996 - 1 March 1997; The Frick Collection, New York, December 1997 - April 1998; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, May - June 1998; The Octagon Museum, Washington, July 1998 - January 1999; Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, February - March 1999

Associated items

O1716, provenance

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