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.
The collection takes its name from Baron Ferdinand's Buckinghamshire mansion, Waddesdon Manor. Here, it was carefully displayed in the specially designed New Smoking Room, at the very heart of late 19th-century society.
New app for families
Take on Baron Ferdinand's Challenge, the new Waddesdon Bequest app for families.
It's free, and can be enjoyed both at the Museum and at home.
The Waddesdon Bequest on film
The new gallery
The Waddesdon Bequest is now displayed in Room 2a, a magnificent new gallery funded by The Rothschild Foundation. Together with Rooms 1 and 2, it now forms part of a suite of ground-floor galleries 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’
Friday 12 February
Friday 19 February
Thursday 25 February
Saturday 5 March
Friday 18 March
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 now known as the Waddesdon Bequest was modelled on the courtly European treasuries (Schatzkammern or Kunstkammern) formed by rulers German and Austrian rulers 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.
Take an in-depth look at every object in the Waddesdon Bequest on a new dedicated website.
With hundreds of high-resolution, zoomable images, label text from the new gallery, curator's notes and more, discover the details behind the extraordinary objects that make up the Waddesdon Bequest. The microsite also includes an array of useful filters and infographics to help you navigate the collection, both at home and in the gallery itself.
A new book on 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.
In July 2015, a conference entitled ‘Something rich and strange’: Cabinets of Curiosity in the English Country House took place at Waddesdon Manor. A summary of the research presented and videos of some of the lectures can be found on the Waddesdon Manor website.
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