Made as a souvenir for Grand Tourists, this wooden model of an ancient Roman temple features a remarkable level of detail, as Christie’s UK Chairman Orlando Rock explains
Orlando Rock, the Chairman of Christie’s UK, first saw this
wooden model of a Roman temple in a library
belonging to the late Dutch collector Eric Albada Jelgersma.
What he didn’t know at the time was which temple it was based
When the model arrived at Christie’s, Rock
posted a photograph of it to his Instagram account asking
the public to help reveal its identity. ‘Within minutes people were commenting that it looked like the Temple of Portunus in Rome,’ he reveals. ‘It saved me days of library research!’
The Temple of Portunus — historically misidentified as the
Temple of Fortuna Virilis — was originally built in Rome
in the 3rd or 4th century BC, then reconstructed in the late 2nd or early 1st
century BC. Located near the city’s port on
the banks of the River Tiber and built in the Ionic style
from tufa and travertine, the construction is one of the
best preserved Roman Republican Period (509–27 BC) temples
in the world — thanks in part to its 9th-century conversion
to a Christian shrine.
‘It’s so rare to come across a complete model like this, especially with these amazing chambers’ — Orlando Rock
Rock explains that in later history the temple was also hugely
influential for artists and architects who looked back to
the designs of antiquity for inspiration. It features in
Andrea Palladio’s seminal 1570 architectural treatise The Four Books of Architecture and is depicted in
several engravings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
Not shown in the engravings are the building’s original underground
catacombs and burial niches, which have long since been destroyed.
The interior of this model offers a recreation of those chambers,
complete with painted murals and Greek and Latin inscriptions.
While some artistic licence may have been
taken with the design of the catacombs, they add considerably to the model’s appeal. ‘It’s so rare to come
across a complete model like this,’ says Rock, ‘especially
with these amazing chambers, as well as details such as the
grass and moss growing on it. You often see Grand Tour reductions of Classical monuments in Siena marble, but it is very unusual to encounter an
elaborate wooden model of a complete temple like this.’
The model was produced sometime in the late 18th or early
19th century by craftsmen in Italy, intended as a
souvenir for Grand Tourists who wished to signal their tastes and interests in Classical culture.
One such Grand Tourist was the architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), who went on to become the professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and assemble an impressive collection of architectural models, including a different version of the Temple of Portunus. ‘But,’ notes Rock, ‘even his
didn’t have fitted interiors.’