Past Exhibitions

Bob the Roman: Heroic Antiquity & the Architecture of Robert Adam

An Exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum from 27 June to 27 September 2003

Sponsored by Howard de Walden Estates Limited

A major new exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum explores the work of Robert Adam (1728 - 92) one of the most influential figures in British architecture. The majority of exhibits are drawn from the extensive collection of some 9,000 Adam drawings at the Museum, which Sir John Soane purchased in 1833.

The 'Adam style', characterised by delicate neo-Antique ornament, is now synonymous with the refinement and elegance of the eighteenth century. Yet there was another side to Robert Adam, a love for monumental grandeur which blossomed during his stay in Rome during the 1750s. At that time he joked that he was so immersed in the cultural life of the city he would be known on his return to England as 'Bob the Roman'.

This exhibition focuses on 'Bob the Roman', exploring the ways in which Robert Adam's three-and-a-quarter years in Italy, prior to the setting up of his London practice in January 1758, were of crucial importance to the formulation of the architect. It was then that he encountered Heroic Antiquity, the grandeur of an architectural idiom that is articulated by bulk and mass and by the solemn ordnance of columns, niches, aedicules and extensive colonnades. It was here he found the 'the true, the simple and the grand' - qualities he strove to restore to the architecture of his own age. His buildings and his design projects show that Adam the architect is infinitely more challenging than Adam the interior decorator.

This exhibition focuses on how Adam learnt to draw in Rome, on his great projects inspired by antiquity - a 9ft long design for an immense Palace, the Bath Assembly Rooms and the Theatre Royal in London - as well as on his speculative scheme for fashionable housing at the Adelphi in London and on his enduring fascination with centrally-planned structures. This is Adam architecture 'in the round' and an attempt to illustrate both the novelty and heroic vision of the architect's invention.

This exhibition and the accompanying colour catalogue have been generously sponsored by Howard de Walden Estates Limited, the grand landlord to the most important surviving group of Adam houses in England, which include Portland Place, Mansfield Street and Chandos House, which will be fully restored this year.