15 August 2011

The Sir John Soanes Museum

July 30

The last day before we left for home, I decided to make a trip to see the Sir John Soanes Museum.

This museum is incredible.  Sir John Soanes was an architect in London who collected all manner of architectural items. When he became a professor at the Royal Academy in 18096, he decided to arrange these items for easy viewing in his house and open it to students on certain days. After his death in 1837 the house was retained as a museum, free to the public.

I had to wait a few minutes to go in because only a certain number of people are allowed in at one time.  Once I was waved through, I was told I should start on the bottom and work my way up.  The bottom floor holds a lot of stonework, but the most magnificent item is the stone sarcophagus of Seti I (which I hope he was done using).  I had to climb up onto a step to see inside, and it was covered with hieroglyphs and carvings.  It sits at the bottom of a light well, with the floors above opening on balconies and a big skylight at the top.

Further in and up a set of stairs, and I passed some incredible stained glass, as well as a wall covered in carved stone pieces.  There is a picture room that I didn't go in because you have to cross a big grate to get in, and everyone kept passing me because I didn't look like I was in line.  I did get a glimpse, though, and there are wall panels that open out with paintings attached so that the tiny room can hold much more than it looks like it should.

The fun part about the museum is that Soanes actually lived there, so there are rooms full of furniture that just look like living rooms (albeit fancy and gorgeous), with lots of books, busts, paintings and vases everywhere.  His desk is still where he had it, tucked into a tiny little hallway of a room that looks out over one of his courtyards. 

I loved the creaky wooden floors (minus the grates) and the awesome views, where the skylights are allowed to reach all the way down to the bottom.  You can stand on a balcony and look down into the sarcophagus, and it's lit only from the skylight. Everything is related to architecture, but it doesn't feel stiff or contrived. Beautiful.

The museum also deals with book conservation, as "Soane’s library is unique as the only intact library of a great architect which remains in its original setting" (from the website).  This museum is truly one of a kind.  It reminds me a great deal of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, but seems to feel much more random but much more lived in (although Gardner lived in her museum, too).

*Museum photo courtesy the website

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