Digital Exhibition

Beyond the Painter-Architect

Artists Reinventing Architecture in Renaissance Italy

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

November 2024

What defines an architectural drawing? What kinds of architectural imagery have been created throughout history and for what purposes? Exploring the intersection of architectural and artistic practice in Renaissance Italy, this exhibition problematises the historiographical distinction between architectural settings for a narrative on one side and project or study drawings on the other, arguing for a more integrated understanding of architectural innovation across a variety of media and representational techniques.

 Beyond the Painter-Architect takes as its starting point the Soane’s North Italian Album, whose designs elude categorisation either as narrative settings or as canonical architectural drawings. By highlighting the architectural imagination of artists and investigating the extent to which they informed architectural practice, this exhibition re-contextualises the Album, suggesting that its drawings are a representative example of contemporary architectural culture rather than a puzzling exception.

Tracing innovative representations of structure and ornament from the late fourteenth to the early sixteenth century, the show deploys the digital format to display the album’s drawings for the first time alongside frescoes, mosaics and panel paintings, as well as other drawings, proposing that figures like Raphael and Michelangelo, often defined as “painter-architects” are a much broader, earlier phenomenon than previously envisaged.

Image: North Italian draughtsman, Cityscape with a chimera, North Italian Album, SJSM Vol. 122, p. 50. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, late fifteenth-early sixteenth century. © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. Photograph by Ardon Bar-Hama.