The Waddesdon Bequest
A Rothschild Renaissance
Gallery Opens 11 June 2015
Marvel at Renaissance treasures collected by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild MP (1839–1898), displayed in a beautiful new gallery at the British Museum.
The Waddesdon Bequest is the superb collection left to the Museum in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild. He originally displayed it in the New Smoking Room at his mansion, Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, after which he named the collection. The Bequest consists of nearly 300 exceptionally important and beautiful medieval and Renaissance pieces, as well as a number of 19th-century forgeries, which tell fascinating stories about the development of the art market.
The Bequest was collected mainly by Baron Ferdinand, in keeping with the renewed interest in medieval and Renaissance art during his lifetime, adding to a collection inherited from his father, Baron Anselm Rothschild of Frankfurt and Vienna (1803–1874). It is modelled on the courtly European treasuries (known as Schatzkammern or Kunstkammern) formed by princes and rulers in Germany and Austria in the 16th century. To 19th-century collectors, these princely collections demonstrated power, wealth, knowledge and discernment – all of which can be seen reflected in the Waddesdon Bequest.
Displayed in a magnificent new gallery funded by the Rothschild Foundation, the Bequest forms part of a suite of rooms on the ground floor (with Rooms 1 and 2) that document the history of taste and knowledge through collecting, as well as the growth of the British Museum.
Hippocamp pendant. Enamelled gold jewel set with emeralds and pearls. Probably French, early 19th century. WB.156.
The Holy Thorn Reliquary. Enamelled gold reliquary set with rubies, pearls and sapphires. French, late 14th century. WB.67.
The Lyte Jewel. Gold pendant jewel set with diamonds, containing miniature portrait of James I by Nicholas Hilliard. England, 1610. WB.167.
The Huntsman Automaton. Silver parcel-gilt cup with removable head, on rolling stand containing clockwork movement. Nuremberg, 1617–1620. WB.134.
Miniature boxwood tabernacle containing scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ. Flemish, about 1500–1530. WB.233.
The Palmer Cup. Enamelled and gilded Syrian glass goblet with scene depicting a prince and attendants, mounted on French silver gilt foot. Early 13th century. WB.53.