Past Exhibitions

Marble Mania: Sculpture Galleries in England, 1640 - 1840

An exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum from 10 October - 22 December, 2001

This exhibition sets out to explore the mania for collection antique sculpture during the two hundred years when it was at its height in England - a tradition that Soane himself was very much part of. What was the compulsion fuelling the competition between the great 'Collector' the Earl of Arundel, King Charles I and other courtiers to lay out huge sums on broken marble statuary brought back from Turkey, Italy, Greece and the great collections of Europe: vases, pedestals, figures, sarcophagi, colossal fragments and inscriptions? Some antiquities were dug from the earth or torn down from ruined buildings, others, more discreetly purchased from the impoverished Roman nobility. Once back in England, and transposed into the context of a great house, palace or garden, they presented a construct which was almost magical, posing as prototypes of authority, the tangible emblems of the cultural and political mores of ancient Rome, and as a national resource and treasure, resonances which were to endure late into the 18th century.

Drawing together works of art and documents from many national and private collections, including sculptures owned by England's two greatest collectors, the Earl of Arundel and the scholar, Charles Townley, this exhibition explores the methodologies underlying the exhibition of antique sculpture; the high social cachet of ownership; the jealousies of rival collectors; the impact of Enlightenment scholarship, and the stunning architectural showcases devised by both aristocratic connoisseurs and the nouveaux riches to display these works.

The exhibition includes marble fragments from the personal museum of Antonio Canova, given by him to the 6th Duke of Devonshire, watercolour sketches of the sculpture gallery at Petworth House by JMW Turner, three colossal marble feet from the collections of Arundel, Sir William Hamilton and Thomas Hope, and a host of record drawings and designs by George Vertue, William Stukeley, William Kent, Sir William Westmacott, Matthew Brettingham, Joseph Bonomi, Robert Adam, James Wyatt and others. The exhibition also includes many items from Soane's own collection.

Catalogue available from Museum shop