John Soane, architect (1753-1837) was appointed Grand Superintendent of Works of the Freemasons in 1813, a post he held until his death. He had been initiated as a freemason earlier that same year and is depicted in his Masonic Robes in this portrait by John Jackson which hangs in the Picture Room at his Museum on Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Soane began making designs for a new Freemason's Hall in Great Queen Street, London in 1826 and work finally began on the building in 1828. His executed design for the interior of the Council Chamber was one of the most personal and richly ornamented of his career and is illustrated here by a watercolour made in 1828 by Soane's perspectivist Joseph Michael Gandy.
The most striking feature of the room was its canopy ceiling which has been likened to 'an outstretched bat's wing'. The canopy was designed to 'float' above the centre of the room - its high canted sides and deep profile echoing Soane's earlier neo-Tudor designs for this room.
In the centre of the canopy was a coffered lantern containing signs of the zodiac and fitted with yellow glass (the model for this was later incorporated by Soane into the little study at his house and Museum). The four side windows of the room were glazed with coloured glass further hightening the atmosphere and four additional clerestory windows contained painted glass with representations of the five orders of antiquity. In his essay for the 'John Soane' Royal Academy exhibition catalogue of 1999 the architectural historian David Watkin calls Soane's Council Chamber 'a piece of speaking architecture, rich with symbolical and natural ornament'. The room was completed in 1831.
In 1813, shortly after his initiation, Soane also designed an Ark of the Masonic Covenant to be used that December at the union of the two Fraternities, the Grand Lodge and the Antient Grand Lodge. This Ark (illustrated here in a pen and wash drawing by Soane's pupil George Underwood) was triangular, with a different classical column at each corner (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, symbolising wisdom, strength and beauty) and measured about 4ft high and 3ft wide.
Soane's Council Chamber at the Freemason's Hall was destroyed in 1863.
(c) Sir John Soane's Museum 2003
Assistant Curator Sir John Soane's Museum
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP UK
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