This rare architectural model is based closely on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, now more correctly referred to as the Temple of Portunus, a particularly important example of Classical Architecture. It was one of the principal monuments of the Ancient Roman Forum and remains in an excellent state of preservation.
The Temple of Portunus has inspired many artists and architects over the centuries and has been widely imitated. Andrea Palladio, for example, recorded its classical order in his seminal Quattro Libri dell Architecture of 1570. The building is likewise recorded in a series of engravings by Piranesi illustrated in Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna and Vedute di Roma (J. Wilton-Ely, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, The Complete Etchings, 2 vols., 1994, vol. I, p. 134, pl. 94 and p. 205, pl. 162). Such works allowed these fascinating Classical buildings to reach England, where Neoclassical architects were inspired to create their own interpretations. In 1767 architect Thomas Prowse provided Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte designs for The Temple of Harmony, a folly recalling the architecture of the Temple of Portunus, built in the pleasure gardens of Halswell House, Somerset, with features by Robert Adam and Thomas Stocking.
Models of Ancient Greek and Roman buildings were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th century when the taste for the antique art and architecture, and the fascination with archaeology were at their height, driven by the rediscovery of sites such as Herculaneum in 1709 and the Grand Tour. See, for example, such exhibitions as that of Richard Dubourg’s collection (Messrs Squibb & Son, A Catalogue of the Celebrated Cork Models of Mr. R. Dubourg, forming the Exhibition at No. 68, Lower Grosvenor Street, London, 1819). In the early 19th century the architect Sir John Soane amassed an impressive collection of architectural models including a copy of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis (Temple of Portunus) which had previously belonged to the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham. (Sir John Soane Museum collection number: MR77 and Thornton and H. Dorey, A Miscellany of Objects from Sir John Soane’s Museum, 1992, p.67). Another model of the same subject by Chichi is in the Hessische Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, and a further example made by Carl May between 1792-1811, is in the Staatliches Museum, Chwerin (H. Werner and K. Valentin, Rom Uber die Alpen Tragen, 1993, pp. 251-254).
The present architectural model features many defining characteristics of the Temple of Portunus. Both have a rectangular footprint, Ionic order and frieze of putti between garlands. It is distinguished from other recorded models by its further interior model depicting realistic catacombs, which is revealed when one one facia of the model hinges open. Several identifications for the catacombs on which this model is based have been suggested. The arrangement of the niches are similar to that of the catacomb of Priscilla which was excavated in the 18th century (see F. Antonio, The Unknown Catacomb, Glasgow, 1991, p. 26). The Catacomb of Saints Gordianus and Epimachus on Via Latina is also a possible source of inspiration for the present model.
Helen Dorey, in her article ‘Sir John Soane’s Model Room’, Perspecta, Vol. 41, Grand Tour (2008), pp. 171, discusses 19th century architectural models of tombs. Soane originally had four such examples, made by Domenico Padiglione of Naples, the internal furnishings and decoration of which were made by the vase conservator of the Museum in Naples, Raffaele Gargiulo. The Soane models also hinge to reveal detailed interiors of famous excavations of the period and were intended to provide context for the location of rediscovered classical vases.
The text on the exterior of the model of the catacomb is written in Latin and Greek. Loosely translated it refers to a boy of six years old who was faithful to God and gave thanks to him every year on his birthday. His grandmother has dedicated the model to the memory of the boy who passed away.