Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


63 The Evolution of Religious Architecture ? c.1810

Pen and brown ink on lightweight laid paper trimmed irregularly at top 38.7 x 27 (15 1/4 x 10 5/8)

Inscribed in ink in three columns from left, with numbers relating to drawings on the same sheet, [a] 'No | 1 simple Caban - Egyptn | 2 Caban surrounded with a wall | 3 Egyptn Temple | 4 ruins of a Temple at Esnay | 5 ruins of a temple at Etfou | 6 ruins at Luxor | Call'd the tomb of Osymandue | AAA different Perystiles | b a vestibule | c the statue of the God | d a vestibule | 7 Temple of Bubastis | 8 Temple of serpent Knupis | 9 Elevation of Do | 10 plan of a Tabernacle | 11 its facade | 12 Temple of Solomon | 13 Phenician Temple | Egyptian, Hebrew, | and Phenician | Temples' ; [b] 'Greek & Roman Temples | 14 a Caban sustain'd | roof sustain'd by trunks | of trees - perhaps gave | the first Idea of Columns | 16 Temple at Anteo | 18 Greek Prostyle | without the hind Columns | and amphiprostyle with | 20 Greek Perystere | 22 Greek Dyptere | 23 Greek temple | resembles that near Bazar at Athens | 24 Tower of the winds | 25 Temple of Jupiter | Olympus at Athens | 28 plan of the Pantheon | 29 Temple at Balbec' ; [c] 'Christian Temples | No | 31 Catacombs of early | Christians - | 32 ancient Basilique | 33 ancient Basilique | of St Peter - Rome | 34 St Sophia at Constantinople | 36 St Mark's at Venice | 39 St Augustine - Rome | 41 St Peters - ' and, below a plan lower centre, 'Royal Chapel | at Versailles -'


This is a tracing with some omissions from plate 1 in volume I of the second edition of Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Gr?ce, consider?es du c?te de L'Histoire et du C?te de L'Architecture by J.D. Le Roy which was published in Paris in 1770. The plate, engraved by Michelinot after Le Moine, illustrates an introductory essay (p.vii-xxiv) on the history of architecture which did not appear in the first edition of 1758. The latter edition with its plans, elevations, studies of the architectural orders and views of ancient Greek buildings in their settings, particularly the Acropolis, was highly influential in spreading the taste for the neo-classical style in the eighteenth century - a movement in which Flaxman as a sculptor and designer was a central figure. As the sale of Flaxman's library at Christie's in June 1828 reveals, not only was he widely read and erudite but, specifically, he owned a number of important modern books on Egyptian, classical and Christian architecture, though he seems not to have possessed a copy of Le Roy. In this sketch Flaxman copied Le Roy's numbering system and his brief descriptive notes are taken from the French explanation of the plans on the page opposite the plate; because of lack of space on the sheet Flaxman could not adopt the severe, almost abstract, three-column arrangement of plans on Le Roy's plate (repr. Serra 1986, p.78, pl.25).

Although the very thin paper on which Flaxman made his tracing is Italian and would not have been available in England, and although he could well have seen Le Roy's book when he was in Italy, it is most likely that this work dates from some time after 1810 when he was appointed the first Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy and formed part of his background research for the lectures which he delivered annually from 1811. In his lectures, some of which were published posthumously in 1829, it is possible to discern the overarching theme that, as the sculptor explained to the art critic Ludwig Schorn in 1826, 'art in Christianity can rise higher than in paganism, since Christian ideas are more sublime than pagan ones, and the best that the art of Greece and Rome has produced is ... also contained in Christian ideas' (quoted in Bindman 1979, p.31). Flaxman was equally concerned with the place of sculpture in buildings - as the reference in no.6c of this drawing clearly implies. In his lecture on Egyptian sculpture he refers to Bubastis (7) (Flaxman 1906, p.63) and illustrates a statue of her (pl.x) while his lecture on modern sculpture refers to the plan of St Mark's (36) (1906, p.244) and the Catacombs (31) and St Sophia (34) (1906, p.246).

Robin Hamlyn

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.162 no.63, reproduced in colour p.163