A visitor looking at the objects in Room 2a

Room 2a

The Waddesdon Bequest

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10:00–17:30 (20:30 on Fridays)

Marvel at the Renaissance treasures collected by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild MP (1839–1898), displayed in a new gallery at the British Museum.

The Waddesdon Bequest is a collection of nearly 300 objects, left to the Museum in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild. It consists of exceptionally important medieval and Renaissance pieces, as well as a number of 19th-century fakes. Together, they paint a fascinating picture of the development of the art market in the late 19th century.

The collection takes its name from Baron Ferdinand's Buckinghamshire mansion, Waddesdon Manor, where it was displayed in a specially designed setting, the New Smoking Room.

In the press

Baron Ferdinand Rothschild (1839–1898)

Baron Ferdinand Rothschild (1839–1898)

As a collector, aesthete, philanthropist and politician, Baron Ferdinand Rothschild was a prominent member of the Victorian establishment, but also an intensely private man. He grew up in Vienna before moving to England, where he married a cousin, Evelina, who died in childbirth 18 months later. At the age of 34 he inherited a vast fortune, dedicating much of his life to building Waddesdon Manor, his Buckinghamshire seat, and filling it with works of art.

One aspect of this was Baron Ferdinand's collection of Renaissance objects, now known as the Waddesdon Bequest. It was modelled on the courtly European treasuries (Schatzkammern or Kunstkammern) formed by German and Austrian rulers in the 16th century. To 19th-century collectors, these princely collections demonstrated power, wealth, knowledge and discernment. Building on a much smaller collection of curiosities inherited from his father, Baron Ferdinand's purchases exemplify the renewal of interest in medieval and Renaissance art in the Victorian era.

The collection was housed in the New Smoking Room at Waddesdon, the backdrop to a sophisticated social scene, with Baron Ferdinand playing host to some of the most influential and famous figures of the day. 

Find out more about Baron Ferdinand Rothschild on Wikipedia

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor

Built by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in the 1870s in the style of a 16th-century French château, the Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is now a National Trust property, open to the public and managed by the Rothschild Foundation. Its interiors house a world-famous collection of 18th-century French porcelain and furniture, as well as an important collection of European paintings. The Renaissance-style New Smoking Room, the Bequest's original home, can also be visited along with the rest of the Bachelors' Wing.

Visit the Waddesdon Manor website to find out more

The Waddesdon Bequest on film

The Waddesdon Bequest on film

Come and see magnificent treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest in a new space with state-of-the-art displays and digital technology. This superb collection of nearly 300 medieval and Renaissance masterpieces was bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in 1898. The new gallery has been funded by The Rothschild Foundation.

 

Music in the Waddesdon Bequest Gallery

Music in the Waddesdon Bequest Gallery

'Like the Renaissance collections which inspired it, the Waddesdon Bequest is made up of different categories, from ceramics and glass to arms and armour. It doesn't contain musical instruments, though these were admired for the beautiful sounds they made, which soothed the senses and evoked the music of the spheres. Instrument-makers used natural materials – wood, animal glue and gut and transformed them into manmade perfection, just as goldsmiths metamorphosed ostrich eggs, Seychelles nuts and nautilus shells into exotic cups made up for European collectors: the Bequest has some superb examples. In this video, Peter Sheppard-Skaerved plays music from about 1600–1620 on rare contemporary violins in the new Waddesdon Bequest gallery. He allows us to hear as well as see as he sounds out the culture which created these extraordinary treasures.' – Dora Thornton, Curator of the Waddesdon Bequest

The Waddesdon Bequest microsite

Take an in-depth look at every object in the Waddesdon Bequest on a new specially designed microsite.

Discover more about the objects that make up the Waddesdon Bequest with hundreds of high-resolution, zoomable images, label texts, curator's notes and object details. The microsite includes filters and infographics to make it easier to explore the collection, at home or in the Museum.

Visit the microsite

Accessibility

  • A large print guide is available. 
  • Tactile and braille guide available.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access. 
  • View sensory map (opens in new window).

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.