The City of London has had centuries to acquire a tasty art collection, which has been shown off in a building near its Guildhall headquarters since 1886. It was only after the original gallery was destroyed during the Blitz that beneath it was discovered a long-sought-after archaeological prize: Londinium's Roman amphitheatre (c AD70 ). It's foundations are now displayed in the lower floors, alongside a Heritage Gallery devoted to important historic documents.
The collection is particularly strong on Victorian art, including significant pre-Raphaelite works by the likes of John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Taking pride of place is American artist John Singleton Copley's Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar (1791), which depicts a 1782 British victory. This immense oil painting was removed to safety just three weeks before the gallery was hit by a German bomb in 1941; it spent 50 years rolled up before undergoing a spectacular restoration in 1999.
London landscapes include the great Venetian painter Canaletto's The Monument from Gracechurch St and 1960s visions of Smithfield and Leadenhall by Jacqueline Stanley. New works continue to be purchased on the themes of money, trade and capitalism – historically the City's chief concerns.
While only a few remnants of the stone walls lining the eastern entrance of the Roman amphitheatre still stand, they’re imaginatively fleshed out with a black-and-fluorescent-green outline of the missing seating, and computer-meshed images of spectators and gladiators. Markings on the square outside the Guildhall indicate the original extent and scale of the stadium, which could seat up to 6000 spectators.