The Petrified Music of Architecture

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A fascinating collection of models of British cathedrals, constructed by the mysterious model maker and architect William Gorringe, will go on display in London for the first time in over 80 years, at Sir John Soane’s Museum next Spring (8 April-25 June 2011) as part of a new exhibition, The Petrified Music of Architecture: Sir Herbert Oakeley’s Collection of Cathedral Models, sponsored by Hornby Hobbies Ltd.

As well as beautiful recreations of the awe-inspiring cathedrals at Canterbury, Lincoln, Exeter, Chester, Hereford, Peterborough and Westminster Abbey, the exhibition, which opens on Friday 8 April 2011, will also include a model of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The elegantly crafted models, which are made of wood and card, vividly recreate the cathedrals at a scale of 60 feet to one inch and were intended to be used as a comparative tool for students of architecture.

The collection was given to Canterbury Cathedral in 1916 by Edward Murray Oakeley and exhibited in the Crypt. But it was Oakeley’s Royal composer and organist brother Sir Herbert (1830-1903), who, by encouraging and supporting his friend William Gorringe, an architectural modeller patronised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, created the collection.

On donating the models to Canterbury Cathedral, Edward Murray Oakeley, then Reid Professor of the theory of Music at Edinburgh University, said of his brother’s collection: “The delicate accuracy of Mr Gorringe’s art positively revels in the minute, and evades the casual scrutiny of ordinary eyesight. The fronts of Lincoln and Peterborough, for instance, almost require the magnifying glass; without it, - like their originals under the unassisted eye of some low-flying aeroplanist – they seem blurred, and miss their due effect.”

Tim Knox, Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, says: “Sir Herbert Oakeley began his extraordinary collaboration with Gorringe whilst an undergraduate at Oxford. Born out of a life-long fascination of and devotion to cathedrals, including his own adored Canterbury, he lovingly guided the creation of a total of 23 English and five European cathedral models through the hands of Gorringe - in his own words ‘feeding the artist with plans, photographs and criticisms’.

“The Oakeley models are incredibly beautiful, detailed and accurate. We are delighted to be able to share this fascinating collection and legacy with visitors to The Soane Museum and we are certain that Soane, himself a great collector of architectural models, would have revelled in their verisimilitude.

“Echoing the mystery surrounding the cathedral craftsmen of medieval times and the techniques they used, very little is known of William Gorringe. But he certainly deserves to be properly recognised for his important contribution to architectural model-making and we hope, that as well as raising awareness of his work, this exhibition will encourage people with any knowledge of Gorringe to get in touch.”

Matthew Butler, Chief Executive of The Canterbury Gift, the charity that supports the conservation of Canterbury Cathedral and its artistic treasures, adds: “We are delighted that, thanks to Hornby Hobbies Ltd and Sir John Soane’s Museum, these wonderful models will not only be on public display for the first time in many years, but will also be conserved for future generations. After 25 June, when the London exhibition closes, the models will be on display at Hornby’s Visitor Centre in Margate for a further twelve months at least for people to enjoy.”

As the Professor of Architecture at The Royal Academy, Soane taught scientific and artistic principles of construction and to illustrate the history of architectural development he collected over 150 examples of historical architectural models. His Model Room is set to be restored as part of the Museum’s £7million Opening up the Soane project, allowing, for the first time since 1837, full public access to the UK’s largest collection of historical architectural models. The Museum’s £7million Opening up the Soane restoration and development project, which is due to be completed in 2014, will open more areas and aspects of the collection to the public and improve visitor facilities.

The Petrified Music of Architecture: Sir Herbert Oakeley’s Collection of Cathedral Models opens at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London on 8 April 2011 and closes on the 25 June 2011. For more information visit www.soane.org or call 020 7440 4263.

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