Hidden Masterpieces (9 March – 5 June 2022) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of the finest works amongst the drawings collected by Sir John Soane. These are usually kept in locked drawers and among carefully stored volumes at Sir John Soane’s Museum, but in Spring 2022 a selection of highlights will be on display for all to enjoy.
Sir John Soane, one of the leading architects in Georgian Britain, compiled what was probably the first comprehensive collection of architectural drawings in the world. By his death in 1837 it numbered 30,000 sheets, including works by the most prominent architects: Thorpe, Wren, Talman, Hawksmoor, Vanburgh, Gibbs, Kent, Chambers, Piranesi, Adam, Clérisseau, Pêcheux, Wyatt, Playfair and, of course, Soane himself. The collection, which includes illuminated manuscripts, Italian Renaissance drawings, and volumes of exquisite Indian and Persian miniatures, demonstrates the range of Soane’s interests and his extraordinary connoisseurship. It remains one of the most important graphic resources in the world and is widely referenced by architects and architectural historians.
The quality of Soane’s collection of drawings is rarely paralleled elsewhere. Because of their fragility, these items are rarely seen by the public. This exhibition, and its associated book, offer visitors a unique opportunity to see some of the highlights of the collection, bringing together a selection of the most beautiful and important works from among the Soane Museum’s drawings collection. Moreover, it offers a glimpse into the ways in which this collection supported Soane’s activities as an architect and teacher.
Highlights of this exhibition include a Book of Hours illuminated by two artists of the Flemish School in 1512; a drawing by Hieronymus Cock giving a view of the Colosseum, Rome, probably prepared for engraving in c.1550; an eighteenth-century volume of Indian and Persian miniatures open to a plate depicting Mumtaz Mahal (for whom the Taj Mahal was made); a capriccio by Giovanni Battista Piranesi from 1745-50; and a variety of other important works including drawings from the offices of leading Georgian architects Robert Adam, George Dance the Younger and Sir John Soane.