Cambridge University

Ax:son Johnson Centre for the Study of Classical Architecture

Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum met at Downing College

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In November 2021 the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, visited Downing College and the Centre for their autumn meeting, a rare occasion for such a meeting to take place outside London.  At the time Downing was built, John Soane was a leading figure in British architecture as the designer of the Bank of England from 1788 and as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy from 1806.  On his death in 1837, Soane bequeathed his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London and all its contents to the nation under an Act of Parliament.  Today ‘The Soane’ is the smallest but one of the most remarkable of the national museums, embodying its founder’s architectural character and ideas.  

Whilst Soane’s views on William Wilkins’s Neo-Greek buildings for Downing are unknown, he was a committed classicist who regarded the ruins of Athens as models demonstrating “those elegant forms and beautiful combinations which the most solid and correct judgement and the most refined taste could produce.” 

After their meeting, the Trustees visited great classical buildings in Cambridge associated with Soane and his times, including the Fitzwilliam Museum by his pupil George Basevi, lead by our Ax:son Johnson Morgan Fellow Dr Max Bryant.

The Trustees also visited the former University Library by another Royal Academy Professor of Architecture, C.R. Cockerell, and Caius College where, in 1995-98, the architect John Simpson re-imagined, as part of the College’s Senior Combination Rooms, Soane’s 1792 proposal for alterations to its Hall.

The day ended with tea in Dr Frank Salmon’s rooms at St. John’s College. We look forwarded to hosting them again in the future!