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Architectural model of a classical temple

This rare architectural model is based closely on the architecture of the Temple of Portunus, which is located on the Forum Boarium in Rome, close to the Forum Romanum. The temple dates to the first century B.C. and is a well-preserved example of Roman Republican architecture. It is also known as the Temple of Fortuna Virilis. Over the centuries this temple has inspired many artists and architects including Andrea Palladio and Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Characteristic of the Temple of Portunus are the rectangular floorplan, the use of the Ionic order and the frieze of putti between garlands. The interior model, which is revealed when one facia of the model hinges open, realistically depicts Roman catacombs. The catacombs could be inspired by those of Priscilla, excavated in the eighteenth century, or the Catacombs of Saints Gordianus and Epimachus on Via Latina. The exterior of the removable inner model is covered with hand-painted scenes from the Old and New Testament, notably Moses striking the rock, the multiplication of the loaves, the good shepherd, Jonah and the whale, the raising of Lazarus and the Holy Family. Inscribed in pencil on the lower edge are the words 'Livelle del Almane'.

Models of Ancient Greek and Roman buildings are associated with the concept of the 'Grand Tour'. From the late seventeenth until well into the nineteenth century, the education of a young European aristocrat could not be considered complete unless he had undertaken a 'Grand Tour', a journey to the preeminent cultural sites of southern Europe, in particular Italy. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the first architectural models were made for export. This practice was based on an Italian tradition, where from the sixteenth century maquettes were fashioned of important cities, in wood and sometimes cork. The models served not only as souvenirs but were also the first plastic examples for scholars unable to travel to Italy or Greece, who previously had only books and paintings to study with.

The famous British architect Sir John Soane owned a collection of architectural models, which included a plaster model of the Temple of Portunus. This model had previously belonged to the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham and is currently in the Sir John Soane's Museum Collection in London.

Object information

Date and place:
Italy, late 18th - early 19th century
43 x 66,50 x 46 cm
Private collection E.A.J., Belgium; Sotheby's London, 22 May 1998, lot 345; Collection Michael Liptich, United Kingdom, since 1998.

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