Sir John Soane’s Museum London

By TIM KNOX, Photographs by DERRY MOORE

At 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, facing the largest square in the city, an elegant small house conceals behind a modest facade the most remarkable and personal museum in London, perhaps in all the world. Bequeathed to the nation by its owner in 1837, Sir John Soane’s Museum is crammed with sculptures, paintings, and curiosities that occupy every available inch of wall and floor space. The Picture Room, for instance, a chamber of modest dimensions, is designed with such ingenuity that it contains more than 100 works — including compositions by Canaletto, Piranesi, Hogarth, and Turner — arranged on walls that are hinged screens, each opening out to reveal new layers of paintings and drawings behind. Written by the present director of the museum, Tim Knox, this handsome volume, featuring photographs by Derry Moore, is the first substantial illustrated book on the museum since the 19th century. The opening part of Knox’s text offers a telling account of the life and career of John Soane (1753-1837), tracing his progress from bricklayer’s boy to eminent architect (whose innovative elaborations of Greek and Roman motifs produced such influential buildings as the Bank of England and the Dulwich College Picture Gallery) and elucidating the origins of his home museum. Knox then turns his attention to a room-by-room tour of Soane’s enduring legacy, offering readers informed and insightful guidance through a wonder-cabinet bursting with astonishing contents and cultural resonances — including more than 7,000 books, a seemingly endless supply of artifacts and antiquities, and such singular items as the sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I.

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