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.
A special loan from the Goldsmiths' Company
The Royal Clock Salt
One of the greatest treasures of the Goldsmiths' Company Collection, the Royal Clock Salt, is now on display in Room 2a until November 2018. Shown with princely treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest, it exemplifies the magnificence of Renaissance court culture.
Probably a diplomatic gift from King François I of France to King Henry VIII of England, or between two of their courtiers, the Clock Salt was made in Paris around 1530–1535 by the royal goldsmith Pierre Mangot. As a display piece, it functioned both as a table clock and a salt cellar.
Of the eleven clock salts listed in Henry VIII's collection after his death, only this one survives today. It reappears in inventories until it was sold from the Royal Collection after the Civil War in 1649. It is one of only four known surviving pieces from the several thousand items of goldsmiths' work that once belonged to Henry VIII – another is the Museum's 15th-century Royal Gold Cup, on display in Room 40.
The loan sees this exquisite piece displayed alongside other luxury goods from the Waddesdon Bequest, such as the Sibyls Casket, which was also made by Mangot for the French court. he loan has also enabled the Museum's Department of Scientific Research to learn more about the remarkable piece's origin, history and construction.
This loan coincides with the exhibition of the Aldobrandini Tazze (a famous set of Renaissance silver) at Waddesdon Manor from April to July 2018, sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation.
New app for families
Take on Baron Ferdinand's Challenge, a free app for families based on the Waddesdon Bequest.
It can be enjoyed both at the Museum and at home.
The Waddesdon Bequest on film
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 does not 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 man-made 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 around 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 new gallery
The Waddesdon Bequest is now displayed on the groud floor in Room 2a, a new gallery funded by The Rothschild Foundation. With Rooms 1 and 2, it forms part of a suite of galleries that document the history of collecting and its relationship with knowledge, taste and the expansion 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’
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.
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.
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 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.
In July 2015, a conference entitled ‘Something rich and strange’: Cabinets of Curiosity in the English Country House took place at Waddesdon Manor.
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