The Waddesdon Bequest redisplayed

One of a pair of maiolica vases with ormolu mounts, circa 1565-1571. Before being acquired by Baron ferdinand, theyy were in the collection of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

One of a pair of maiolica vases with ormolu mounts, circa 1565-1571. Before being acquired by Baron ferdinand, theyy were in the collection of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1898 Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild left his magnificent collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures to the British Museum, to be displayed together as the Waddesdon Bequest, named after his beloved country house, Waddesdon Manor.

The newly displayed Waddesdon Bequest at British Museum. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The newly displayed Waddesdon Bequest at British Museum. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

This collection has now been redisplayed in a new gallery at the museum (room 2A, entry free), enabled by a donation from the Rothschild Foundation.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in his sitting room at Waddesdon with his favourite poodle Poupon. ©Waddesdon Manor

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in his sitting room at Waddesdon with his favourite poodle Poupon. ©Waddesdon Manor

Baron Ferdinand inherited some of these objects from his father, Baron Anselm von Rothschild, but he greatly increased the collection himself as well. He was consciously emulating the art collections formed by the princes of Renaissance Europe.

Portrait busts of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy, boxwood, about 1515. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Portrait busts of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy, boxwood, about 1515. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The collecting and building activities of various members of the Rothschild family, with its branches in Vienna, Frankfurt, Paris and London, demonstrated that they saw themselves as a new enlightened European aristocracy.

Aerial view of Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust Images/John Bigelow Taylor

Aerial view of Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust Images/John Bigelow Taylor

Of the 45 Rothschild mansions across Europe, only Waddesdon remains intact and open to the public. The house and grounds were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 and are managed by the Rothschild Foundation.

The Ghisi Shield, hammered iron, silver-plated and damascened with gold, about 1600. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The Ghisi Shield, hammered iron, silver-plated and damascened with gold, about 1600. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Baron Ferdinand’s Renaissance collection was kept in the Smoking Room at Waddesdon. His sister Alice, who inherited the house, replenished the room with further treasures in a similar taste, which can still be seen there today.

The Smoking Room at Waddesdon. ©Waddesdon Manor

The Smoking Room at Waddesdon. ©Waddesdon Manor

The new display at the British Museum was designed by architects Stanton Williams in collaboration with the British Museum’s curators, conservators and other specialists. The large but subtle display cases, made by Goppion, lead the visitor around the objects and allow close viewing of their beautiful surfaces and exquisite craftsmanship.

Miniature tabernacle and case, boxwood, leather, gold fittings, 1510-1525, coming apart and opening like a flower to reveal further areas of minute carving with scenes from Life and Passion of Christ. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Miniature tabernacle and case, boxwood, leather, gold fittings, 1510-1525, coming apart and opening like a flower to reveal further areas of minute carving with scenes from Life and Passion of Christ. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Evocative images of life at Waddesdon in Baron Ferdinand’s time are projected in a slow cycle on the upper level of the gallery. Discrete wall-mounted video screens show magnified details of some of the more intricate objects.

Turquoise glass goblet, Venice, late 1400s. The goblet is enamelled and gilded with pairs of lovers, suggesting that it may have been a betrothal gift. The Waddesdon  Bequest.  ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Turquoise glass goblet, Venice, late 1400s. The goblet is enamelled and gilded with pairs of lovers, suggesting that it may have been a betrothal gift. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The new display is accompanied by a splendid catalogue by curator Dora Thornton. The British Museum’s website also includes a dedicated Waddesdon Bequest microsite. And there is an exhibition at Waddesdon specifically about Baron Ferdinand’s Renaissance collection, until 25 October.

5 Responses to “The Waddesdon Bequest redisplayed”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I can’t wait to see it!

    Not that all of the objects were originals, though. Have you heard of Frederick Spitzer and Reinhold Vasters?

  2. artandarchitecturemainlyHels Says:

    You note that the Ghisi Shield was created from hammered iron, silver-plated and damascened with gold (c1600). It is way too spectacular to be used as a shield in real fighting, so where did it come from and was it intended to be ceremonial only?

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, I hadn’t heard of them until few days ago, but the new display and the catalogue do mention these clever forgers and pasticheurs. And the catalogue also puts the collection in the context of the development of the international art market in the nineteenth century, which enabled people like Baron Ferdinand to assemble new collections, and the concomitant emergence of a new class of forgers and ‘restorers’, who helped to fulfill the demand.

    Helen, yes they wouldn’t have used this exquisite shield to ward off blows in an actual battle. It was intended for parade and display and as a symbol of military prowess. The maker, Giorgio Ghisi, was from Mantua. It was purchased by Baron Ferdinand’s father, Baron Anselm, at the Demidov sale in 1870. He bought it for 160,000 francs after a fierce bidding battle with the 4th Marquess of Hertford – part of whose own collection is still preserved in London as the Wallace Collection, and whose taste was quite similar to the goût Rothschild.

    More about the Ghisi shield here: http://bit.ly/1I8lKwz

  4. Tania Adams Says:

    And the project curator was Gina Murphy – an old colleague from the National Trust – can’t wait to see it!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed – I didn’t see her at the preview, but she must be very proud to have been involved in this project.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: