The Sackler Wing of Galleries
Sculptures from the RA Collection on display in the Sackler Wing of Galleries
Following the RA’s move to Burlington House in 1867, the architect Sydney Smirke RA extended Lord Burlington’s town palace in a number of ways to satisfy the terms of the lease. The Main Galleries and Art Schools were built in half of the garden at the back and an extra floor was added to the house to serve as Diploma Galleries.
In 1991, an extensive remodelling of this addition was unveiled. Norman Foster RA replaced the Victorian Diploma Galleries with a series of top-lit barrel vaulted spaces, renamed the Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing. The neglected gap between the old town palace and the Main Galleries was brought into use by the clever insertion of a modern glass lift and stairs. The light-flooded reception space at the top in front of the new wing of Galleries (pictured above) incorporates Smirke’s stone cornice, which capped the Main Galleries and is here reused as a ledge to display sculpture from the RA’s Collection, now known as The Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery.
Lord Foster has spoken of how the seminal thinking behind the Sackler Wing design paved the way for later work by Foster Associates, such as the Great Court at the British Museum, describing it as “the first in a line of projects to demonstrate a clear philosophy about how you make modern intervention in historical structures and how you establish a meaningful relationship between old and new”.*
Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo
The Royal Academy’s greatest treasure – the marble sculpture, The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1504–06), also known as the Taddei Tondo – is displayed in the Sackler Wing.
Bequeathed in 1830 by Sir George Beaumont, collector, patron and friend of Constable, the tondo was initially intended to serve as an exemplar of excellence for students in the Royal Academy Schools.
Sackler Galleries: reception area showing the Michelangelo Tondo
* Quotation in Norman Foster: Works 4, 2004, Munich & London, page 6.