John Soane an important architect of the 19th century designed his home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields England as an innovative and fascinating space that housed and continues to house his collection of over 20,000 items comprising of personal effects, paintings and statuary among other artifacts. The collection was left to the nation to benefit ‘amateurs, students of architecture, sculpture and painting’ by an Act of Parliament which came into effect on his death in 1837.
The neo classical townhouse looks very much like it did in 1837, and the two other houses that he designed, standing alongside, are now part of the museum. The appeal of the collection is said to be the domestic setting in which valuable and eccentric pieces are displayed. Among the many interesting features of the house is a geometric staircase with walls painted to resemble those of Roman catacombs, two red painted rooms resembling those found in the ruins of Pompeii and one with the ceiling painted to resemble a cloudy sky. The domed top lit ceiling in the breakfast room inset with convex mirrors, a colonnaded area and rooms full of marble and bronze Greek and Roman statuary naturally lit by means of glass domes, skylights and windows set high up on the walls show off the collections to perfection. One of the most important parts of the museum is the rooms where pictures are ingeniously displayed, stacked behind each other on folding wooden panes. Works by European greats such as Canaletto, Turner, Piranesi and Hogarth are found here. Elsewhere over 30,000 architectural drawings by Christopher Wren, Robert Adam and others, a set of caricatures of London lowlifes in the late 18th century, Greek and Romans vases, gems of all kinds, medieval objects, 325 items of furniture, stained glass from ancient monasteries and convents, time pieces, architectural models, slaves’ chains, an Egyptian hieroglyphic sarcophagus of Seti I, a replica of a monk’s parlour, valuable collection of books are found displayed in narrow hallways, crammed into cases and small spaces in innovative ways. The first Tuesday of each month when the museum opens late, a part of the house is lit by candles. It has to be the best time to visit. Special events often take place during this time heightening the viewing experience.
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