Waddesdon’s ‘Aladdin’s cave’
More than 300 rarely seen objects spanning two millennia are to be revealed in new, permanent gallery at Waddesdon Manor.
From a 1st-century cameo of Augustus Caesar’s grandson, to a microscope used by entomologist and flea expert Charles Rothschild, via jewellery given as presents from Queen Victoria, to objects bearing Nazi inventory numbers, gold boxes, silver and jewellery – a new gallery with a permanent display of items that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects will open at Waddesdon Manor on September 7.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild built Waddesdon at the end of the 19th century in the style of a French Renaissance château, suggesting that he had a keen eye on the past. He was part of a long line of remarkable Rothschild collectors, a dynasty which continues to collect to this day.
The collections range from paintings and decorative arts to textiles, books and manuscripts – but this new, purpose-built gallery in Ferdinand’s magnificent house in rural Buckinghamshire has a different focus. It showcases more than 300 precious objects dating from 100AD to the 20th century, all of which have personal connections to family members past and present.
More than three-quarters of them are on loan from the private collection and will be on public display for the first time. All the objects have been cleaned and, in some cases, conserved as part of the gallery project, leading to a wealth of new knowledge and discoveries.
Densely displayed and beautifully lit, in bespoke museum-style cases, A Rothschild Treasury represents an intense and absorbing opportunity to enjoy and understand objects made from rare and precious materials, including spectacular jewellery and intricate clocks.
All have a profound significance for the Rothschild family, and tell the fascinating story of its European history – around 20 objects still bear the Nazi inventory numbers applied when they were confiscated from the French Rothschilds during the Second World War.
A Rothschild Treasury not only reflects the Rothschild interest in collecting, but also the tradition of the Schatzkammer [treasury]. These treasure rooms which celebrated the riches of the earth and natural world, first created in European courts from the 16th century onwards, so inspired Baron Ferdinand that he created his own ‘Renaissance Museum’ in Waddesdon’s Smoking Room (a collection which was subsequently bequeathed to the British Museum as the Waddesdon Bequest).
Visitors first catch a glimpse of A Rothschild Treasury (constructed in what were formerly the servants’ quarters) through a stone archway and ironwork grille. A glowing wall of opulent, colourful, alluring objects, different shapes, different sizes, and different materials will greet them, some set against a backdrop of embroidered textile. The sense of sumptuousness builds inside the small gilded, barrel-vaulted room, lined on either side with lit cases containing a cornucopia of objects, precious and intriguing. It will be an intense experience – as if stumbling upon an Aladdin’s Cave.
All the objects have an intimate connection to the Rothschild family, from Baron Ferdinand’s watch chain and Miss Alice’s seal, to classical coins collected by James de Rothschild and the microscope used by Lord Rothschild’s grandfather, the naturalist Charles.
Particular highlights include an amber casket made in the 17th-century in the Baltic, a mounted nautilus shell that belonged to the renowned collector William Beckford, an 18th-century Mughal jade vase encrusted with precious stones and the Nelme Cup, a unique gold standing cup made in England in 1727.
Lord Rothschild said: ‘I am truly delighted that the Treasury, the culmination of a long-held family ambition to extend the displays at the Manor, is opening this autumn. Many objects from my family’s collections, all with significant and personal connections, are being put on show for the first time.
‘The display is a homage to the Rothschilds who created and have cared for Waddesdon, and an expression of the ties which bind earlier generations to the present.
‘I also hope that this new room, with its extraordinary and varied contents, will surprise, delight and intrigue our visitors as they explore. Even for those who think that they know Waddesdon and its collections well, there is much to discover.’
Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections at Waddesdon Manor, added: ‘The Rothschilds were collectors extraordinaire, and this small, intense room is a microcosm of an aspect of their taste, curiosity and discernment.
‘But behind the beauty of the objects themselves is something more. Baron Ferdinand described how what drove him as a collector was what he called ‘association’ – the histories and connections of everything he acquired. This is nowhere more true than in A Rothschild Treasury, where every object tells a story – of its making, of its passage through time and of the family thanks to whom we can now enjoy it.’
Boucheron Tiara from 1913