British Architectural Library Acquires Renaissance Drawings

By Caroline Lewis | 03 May 2006

Codex Stosch, front elevation of the Temple of Minerva in the Forum of Nerva, Rome. © Lyon & Turnbull Fine Art Auctioneers

The British Architectural Library has purchased one of the most significant collections of 16th century architectural drawings of the great buildings of ancient Rome, known as the Codex Stosch.

The pen and ink drawings are by a member of Raphael’s circle, Giovanni Battista da Sangallo (1496-1548) and depict 16 ancient buildings in and near Rome. Culture Minister David Lammy put a temporary export bar on the archive in October 2005, recognising that it is ‘of outstanding significance for the study of architectural history’. The Library was then able to buy the drawings for £274,417 with the help of the Art Fund.

“The Codex Stosch offers us not only a beautiful set of early architectural survey drawings,” said BAL Trustee Sir Colin St John Wilson, “but also a striking witness to the passionate pursuit, by the early Renaissance architects and scholars, for evidence of a classical architectural method.”

Made around 1520 with great accuracy and detail, the Codex contains 26 leaves bearing 50 drawings. They reflect a new method of carefully measured drawing introduced by Pope Leo X and advocated by Raphael. The buildings are all drawn to the same scale for easy comparison and represented in plan, elevation and section.

drawing of an ornate column base and other details with some handwriting

Codex Stosch, details of the Temple of Minerva in the Forum of Nerva, Rome. © Lyon & Turnbull, Fine Art Auctioneers

The group of drawings is named after Baron Philipp von Stosch (1691-1757), in whose collection they were found in 1760. Stosch paid for his passion for collecting gems, books and drawings with work that included spying on the Jacobite Court in Rome for the British Government.

The Codex disappeared once more after his death and only turned up in 2005 in a Northumberland country house library whose contents were being auctioned.

“This is a unique collection of Renaissance architectural drawings – not only are they highly finished reconstructions of buildings from antiquity but they are closely connected to the work of Raphael and his passion for cataloguing and surveying Rome,” said Art Fund Director David Barrie.

Giovanni Battista da Sangallo was an architect and theorist who worked on many building projects in Rome during his lifetime, though only one is known to remain. He translated the only surviving Roman treatise on architecture, De Architectura, by Marcus Vitrivius Pollio, of whom he was a follower.

He came from a family of architects. His brother Antonio da Sangallo the Younger was the most distinguished in Rome after the death of Raphael in 1520, whom he succeeded as architect to St Peter’s Basilica.

drawing of architectural details with some serifed lettering

Codex Stosch, details of the Temple of Vespasian, Rome. © Lyon & Turnbull, Fine Art Auctioneers

The Codex will now be housed in the Royal Institute of British Architects Library of Drawings and Archive at the V&A Museum, joining Andrea Palladio’s (1508-1589) drawings, also of Roman buildings. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) acquired Palladio’s drawings in 1894.

“There are very few opportunities for libraries today to acquire groups of drawings with the cultural and scholarly significance of Codex Stosch,” said Dr Irena Murray, Director of the British Architectural Library.

“Since its inception,” she continued, “the RIBA British Architectural Library has acquired many important documents and objects pertaining to the Renaissance experience of ancient Rome, and so the Codex can be studied in a much larger context. Located in the RIBA Library’s Drawings and Archives Collection at the V&A, the Codex will be accessible to everyone.”

The Codex was purchased with £150,000 from the British Architectural Library Trust, £100,000 from the Art Fund and the remaining sum from the Library’s Drawings Endowment Fund.

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