Our Visitors Services Team are the public face of the Soane Museum. From greeting visitors at the front door, to bringing Hogarth’s paintings to life in the Picture Room, they ensure a visit to the Soane is like no other. To celebrate being a finalist for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017, we spoke to the team to find out what makes working at the Soane so special, and how it has inspired them.

Phillip

What’s your favourite object or space in the Museum?

It has to be the magnificent astronomical clock in the Library Dining Room. The grand neoclassical rotunda case in amboyna wood has been French polished to a marble finish and a musical movement would have been in the plinth. Originally belonging to Frederick, Duke of York, it was made in Paris in about 1815 by Raingo. Like me Soane loved complex mechanisms and this one is rare and fascinating. What makes it special is its Orrery, an intricate clockwork model of the solar system. This cosmic masterpiece doesn’t just tell the time here and anywhere in the world, it also shows the day of the week, the day of the month and the month of the year. Over a four year lunar cycle it would also have shown the rotation of the earth on its axis, the movement of the earth around the sun, the movement of the moon around the earth, the phases of the moon and also the current sign of the zodiac!  Whilst all this was happening a tune would have played – in French!

Why do you enjoy working at the Soane?

I love working in such an important historic house with a passionate team of kindred spirits. We are all very committed to maintaining and sharing Soane’s great legacy and as many of our visitors have often remind me – I have the perfect job!

How has the Soane inspired you?

I had always hoped to change career in my 50s and explore different interests and directions, especially my passion for art and history. I have known the Soane for nearly 30 years and 3 years ago I approached them to become a volunteer. Luckily I was accepted. Working at the Soane as a volunteer inspired me to take the plunge and leave the familiar world of finance behind me (hooray!) and join the Soane permanent staff.  I couldn’t be happier.

Leila

What’s your favourite object or space in the Museum?

A pair of roundels by the 18th century sculptor Thomas Banks (1735-1805) called 'Sol' and ‘Luna’ or day and night. One of the roundels represents the sun rising, moving across the sky on a horse-pulled chariot emerging from behind a male figure symbolising the sea.  The other roundel is the reverse and represents night-time.

You can see different versions of these all over the Museum and Sir John Soane used these roundels in several of his own buildings including the Bank of England.  They’re all based on the decorative motifs that adorn the East and the West sides of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. I have always found the roundels particularly fascinating but ever since I had the opportunity of seeing in situ they have become a real personal favourite. 

Why do you enjoy working at the Soane?

Because the collection represents the life of Sir John Soane from beginning to end, and it's very rewarding to hear the visitors commenting on how extraordinary the Museum actually is. Architecturally the house displays multiple skylights, extensive usage of mirrors together with all the niches and recesses and of course a rich and exciting collection of examples from antiquity and models. It’s totally unique. 

How has the Soane inspired you?

I find Sir John Soane an inspiration due to the fact that he had a strong determination to succeed in his professional life particularly given the fact that he came from a disadvantaged family background and managed to climb to the rankings of a gentleman. I also admire his drive to further his education through learning languages. This I find extremely inspiring because I also had to become fluent in another language and study further in order to come and work in this field.

Charlotte

What’s your favourite object or space in the Museum?

Canaletto’s Riva degli Schiavoni is such a beautiful painting. It draws you into the Picture Room and into the scene depicted allowing you to almost hear the voices of the people on the street and the lap of the waves against the boats. The ships’ rigging and the architectural detailing are incredibly fine that you almost forget that it’s a painting.

Why do you enjoy working at the Soane?

Before I left school, I set a goal for myself to find a job where I could be surrounded by beautiful works of art. I have been fortunate enough to have found that opportunity at the Soane and to be able to share my love for the collection, and Soane himself, with the visitors I talk to. The museum was to educate and inspire future generations and is bought to life by the visitors and staff combined. Being a part of continuing Soane’s legacy has given me a great deal of happiness. The collection is very personal, it’s as though Soane has just left the room and will be back later with another purchase. Also, my colleagues are amazing, they have such wide-ranging interests and knowledge and I learn so much from them every time I come to work.

How has the Soane inspired you?

Personally, the Soane has inspired me to explore different areas of history that I would not normally have considered. It has also proved that the arts sector can never be described as boring, there is so much variety, finding something that really piques the interest of a visitor is one of the most exciting things to do. I also find Sir John Soane himself very inspiring; he came from a poor background and through his hard work and perseverance he rose to be very successful and proves that your background doesn’t have to be a hindrance. If you are passionate about something and put your heart and soul into it, you can achieve anything. I think he would have been a wonderful person to have met.

We want to hear how you’ve been inspired by Soane, as we vie to be named Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017! Tell us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #inspiredbysoane and #museumoftheyear.