The Classical Orders: Myth, Meaning and Beauty in the Drawings of Sir John Soane

Museum for Architectural Drawing, Berlin

‘Models of beauty, harmony, and perfection’,
Sir John Soane, Lectures

This exhibition uses striking drawings from the collections of Sir John Soane’s Museum to explore the ways in which architects have been inspired by the beauty and monumentality of the buildings of the Greeks and Romans. Informed by ancient temples and monuments, as well as classical texts, Renaissance and Enlightenment builders embraced the classical orders in an attempt to compete with the ancients. The orders are a series of architectural styles developed in ancient Greece and adopted and adapted by the Romans.  

For Sir John Soane (1753–1837), the leading neo-classical architect in late Georgian Britain, a proper understanding of the three primary ancient orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian - was central to the practice of architecture. This exhibition uses the extensive architectural drawings collection from Sir John Soane’s Museum in London to introduce the classical orders, explore the legends behind their origins and examine their use in Soane’s work. The selection of thirty drawings presented in the exhibition were mainly created by Soane’s studio as illustrations for his lectures by at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These large sized, striking and colourful works helped the architect to explain the ancient sources that inspired him and his contemporaries in adopting and adapting the five orders: The Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.

Image: Joseph Michael Gandy. Presentation drawing, Sir John Soane’s design for a triumphal bridge in the Doric style, 1799, pencil, pen and watercolour on laid paper, SM 12/5/5

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