Sir John Soane Museum - Enchanting Havens
Sir John Soane's Museum is a house museum in London, which was formerly the home of neo-classical architect, John Soane. It holds many drawings and architectural models of Soane's projects, and a large collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and antiquities that he acquired over many years.
After seeing the Dome with it towering walls of sculptures and urns so many times on the Instagram stories of Mr Fabio Trombini, I had to satisfy my curiosity and visit it myself. For the glimpses I had seen made this museum almost too good to be true, because how could one building simply hold so much. I had severely underestimated the passion of a collector of antiquities. Now I will do my best to take you on a little tour but it is the kind of place that is often beyond description.
We begin in the entrance hall made of ochre coloured marble and are directed into the Library. Painted in a rich scarlet, it had olive green on its trims, mahogany bookcases lining its walls and two large leather armchairs in oxblood sat by the marble fireplace. The ceiling was painted with trompe-l'oei and it was easy to imagine what this room must be like on a cold winter evening lit by candlelight, how the books must glint behind the glass and the gilt on the ceiling must glow.
Directly adjacent to the Library was the Dining room. Painted in the same scarlet, an equally ornate ceiling and more bookshelves wherever they would fit, the room had a ceiling high window that looked out onto a yellow courtyard, with intricate stained glass panels that ran along the base. A painting of Sir John Soane himself hung above the fireplace, a beautiful architectural model sat on the mantel. There were many wonderful things throughout the room. Antique vases and marble busts were placed on every available surface, glass domes held golden clocks and models of Greek ruins. It was a small taste of the exquisite things yet to come.
Entering through a door between bookcases and we were in the Breakfast room. The yellow room was lit with daylight pouring through mustard coloured windows. The centre of the room was domed and etched with a Greek pattern, and when one looked up, a lantern made of illustrated panels could be seen. On the walls were more bookcases, framed pictures of architectural designs, clocks, oil paintings and many round mirrors on the ceiling, which made one feel as if they were in a ship.
Through a small ante room and we have reached the place that drew me here. The Dome. There was not an inch of space that didn't have something beautiful filling it, plaster moulds were hung up the grey walls and across the ceiling, intricate urns, busts and marble lions were placed on ledges.
I personally thought a little too close the edges of those ledges (sorry I can't resit a rhyme) and so a conversation began between my companion and I of how perfect a setting this room would be for an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
A Greek urn manages to slip off a ledge, a great statue of Apollo happens to topple over or a poor unsuspecting visitor somehow trips over the edge and straight into the sarcophagus of King Seti I in the Sepulchral Chamber below. The options were endless.
Now Agatha Christie and possible plot twists aside, the collection was remarkable. One could spend years amongst it and still discover something they had not noticed before, another piece of history with its own unique story to tell. It is such an atmospheric place, so many objects that were thousands of years old, all in one place. This room alone was worth traveling for. But there was more to see, we were only four rooms in, so we take a right past the statue of Apollo (very carefully), through the Colonnade and into the Picture Room.
The Picture Room was made to contain some of Sir John Soane’s most treasured works of art. Soane used moving ‘picture planes’ to allow him to hang a small 13-by-12-foot room with 118 paintings, a collection large enough for a room three times its size. The panels were not open on the day I visited but the art that we could see was more than enough. The walls were a backdrop of warm grey, a great painting of Venice sat above the mantelpiece and above were sketches of Romans ruins and oil paintings of pastoral scenes. There were other paintings of Venice and in each one the water was wonderfully blue.
Down a spiral staircase and we were in the basement. Here in the aforementioned Sepulchral Chamber, under lit by an amber glow, lies one of the museum's most renowned treasures. The sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. Made in 1279 BC, the sarcophagus is carved from alabaster, a pearly translucent stone that was highly valued by the Egyptians. Across its surface, both inside and outside, are carved in hieroglyphs, an Egyptian text known today as the Book of the Gates, a series of spells and rituals that the dead pharaoh would need to safely pass through the underworld and reach the afterlife. It was equally beautiful as it was eerie so we didn't linger long, especially since we'd had our little murder mystery conversation within earshot.
The basement was a maze of marble and stone. Walking through the Crypt we came to a slightly warmer place (and I mean ever so slightly). The Monks Parlour. Panelled in wood with more plaster moulds, the room had one of the most ornate ceilings I had ever seen. But it was yet another place I did not wish to linger and so I was quite relived to find myself climbing back up the marble staircase to the daylight again.
The next rooms we reached were the drawing rooms. First was the bright yellow North Drawing Room, it was small but had red stained glass windows and opulently framed paintings. The South Drawing Room was painted in the same yellow. With views across the park from the windows, a lavish chaise longe that matched the walls and a sparkling chandelier, the South Drawing Room simply glowed.
Next was the South Exhibition Gallery. Painted in a textured red, the wood paneling and ceiling has been painted in blue and white to look like clouds. It held the exhibition "The Romance of Ruins". This led through to the North Exhibition Gallery. The walls were a pale pink and grey, mahogany and glass cabinets lined the wall and artist models sat on a table at the centre. Now there were more rooms above, including the Model Room and Sir John Soane's private apartment, but these were closed on the day we visited.
Down a flight of grey stairs and we reach the end of our tour, a little dazed and confused by the sheer amount we had seen in such a short space of time. The Sir John Soane Museum is in a league of its own and if you are near by, I do encourage you to pop in and explore its treasures for yourself.
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