A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest, Room 2a, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild emulated many of the Renaissance princely and noble collectors in creating his own Kunstkammern in the Tower Drawing Room at his country house Waddesdon Manor but in the late 1880s he had a New Smoking Room created in the Bachelors’ Wing which was decorated in the Renaissance style and suited the collection perfectly.
He bequeathed this Renaissance collection to the British Museum on his death in 1898 with the proviso that it was to be displayed in a separate room on its own. Having been displayed on the first floor of the museum for many years it is now housed, thanks to a generous donation from the Rothschild Foundation, in a stunning, specially created new gallery in what was the original Reading Room of the Museum.
This is a special collection not only because it reflects the mind of a 19th century collector but also through the objects purchased reflects the art market of the day as well as the rise of forgery to meet the demand from the growing number of collectors in the 19th century.
This is a collection that one has to visit so that one can get close to the objects and appreciate their fine detail and see the craftsmanship that went into their creation. To me the exquisite Holy Thorn Reliquary still captures my imagination as it was made to hold a thorn believed to have come from Christ’s Crown of Thorns and was described by Neil MacGregor in the series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” as “a single-object museum”.
Footnote: The New Smoking Room at Waddesdon now houses a collection put together by Ferdinand’s sister Alice de Rothschild. See my blog CHRISTMAS 2015 AT WADDESDON (21 November 2015) for an illustration, it is the room with the “Hanukkah” inspired lamp in it.