Past Exhibitions

Pistrucci’s Capriccio: a Rediscovered Masterpiece of Regency Sculpture

An exhibition in the North Drawing Room at Sir John Soane's Museum from 1 February to 18 March 2006

From February to April 2006, Sir John Soane's Museum plays host to a forgotten masterpiece of Regency sculpture - the beautiful and mysterious Capriccio, by the Italian gem-engraver and medallist Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855). Thought lost since 1855, the Capriccio is an enigmatic composition of heaped-up fragments brilliantly carved from a single block of white marble. The re-emergence of this enigmatic sculpture in 2004 is considered one of the major rediscoveries in British sculpture of the last decade. The Soane is proud to host the Capriccio, together with a small display of other works by Pistrucci, for eight weeks before it goes on long-term show at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, the National Trust house that is home to the Rothschild Collection.

Benedetto Pistrucci is a largely forgotten artist of Soane's era. Born in Rome, and trained in Italy, most of Pistrucci's working life was spent in London at the Royal Mint. A prodigious, but volatile talent, his public commissions included the George IV gold sovereign and the celebrated, but uncompleted Waterloo Medal. The Capriccio is one of a handful of sculptural works by the artist, produced during a long stagnant period at the Mint where professional frustrations (not helped by his quarrelsome nature) had left him feeling bitter and isolated.

Although carved from a single block of marble, the Capriccio looks to the eye like a diverse pile of 'Antique' fragments. The fragments include a lion's head, portrait medallions, reliefs of a naked woman and a cage of wild beasts. On the back is a figure of Hercules in exile and a fleeing figure in contemporary dress. It is signed by Pistrucci and inscribed in Italian 'in the unhappiest years of his life, 1828'. Whilst the full meaning of its complex allegory is only partly understood, it is clear that Pistrucci's Capriccio is a sculptural manifesto, epitomising the sculptor's disappointments whilst in the employ of the Royal Mint.

This exhibition will display the amazing Capriccio, attempt to explain its complex meaning, and set it in context with other works by Pistrucci including busts, gems and medals. It will be shown in the North Drawing Room of the Museum where visitors will be able to draw parallels with Soane's own arrangements of classical antiquities and casts, modern pictures and sculpture and architectural models - a similar expression of an artist's enthusiasms, successes and disappointments. An illustrated catalogue, edited by Carlo Milano, will accompany the exhibition.

This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Lord Rothschild. The spirited purchase of the Capriccio in 2005 through a Rothschild family charitable trust has ensured that this remarkable work of sculpture will remain in this country. In April the exhibition will travel to Waddesdon Manor where the Capriccio will remain on long-term show. The Museum would also like to thank John Hill of Jeremy Ltd who has made a contribution towards the costs of this exhibition.

24-page colour exhibition catalogue available from the Museum Shop

The exhibition will travel to Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire from 29 March to 29 May 2006