The Waddesdon Bequest
A Rothschild Renaissance
Marvel at the Renaissance treasures collected by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild MP (1839–1898), displayed in a beautiful new gallery at the British Museum.
The Waddesdon Bequest is a superb collection of nearly 300 objects, left to the Museum in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild. It consists of exceptionally important and beautiful 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.
Baron Ferdinand originally displayed the collection in the specially designed New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor, his mansion in Buckinghamshire, after which he named the Bequest.
The new gallery
See some of the treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest
Discover the story of Baron Ferdinand and his legacy
The Bequest is now displayed in Room 2a, a magnificent new gallery funded by The Rothschild Foundation. Alongside Rooms 1 and 2, it now forms part of a suite of rooms on the ground floor documenting the history of collecting and its relationship with taste, knowledge and the growth of the British Museum.
In the press
‘an unrivalled collection of precious baroque and Renaissance objects’
‘a beautifully restored space... glittering, exquisite objects’
‘some of the most impressive objects in the British Museum’
Greatly expanding a collection inherited from his father, Baron Ferdinand purchased objects that exemplify the renewal of interest in medieval and Renaissance art during his lifetime. The collection was 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.
A Rothschild Renaissance
Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest
Curator Dora Thornton’s new, sumptuously illustrated book unlocks the history and romance of this spectacular collection by looking at some of its greatest treasures and the unique and intriguing stories they tell.
Built by Ferdinand Rothschild in the 1870s in the style of a 16th-century French château, the magnificent Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is now a National Trust property, open to the public and managed by the Rothschild Foundation. Its sumptuous 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.
The New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor, as it looks today. © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photo: John Bigelow Taylor
The New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor, as it looked in 1897. © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Baron Ferdinand Rothschild and his dog Poupon. © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
The South Front of Waddesdon Manor, as it looks today. © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photo: Richard Bryant