In collecting Schatzkammer (literally 'Treasure Room') and Kunstkammern ('Art Cabinets') objects the Rothschilds were influenced by the wealthy Renaissance princes who kept cabinets of treasures or curiosities. The family's collections in this field were remarkable in England where few people had shown more than a passing interest.
The collections of Baron Lionel de Rothschild
The collection of Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) was probably the largest ever made. Ivories, mother-of-pearl, rock crystals, mounted tusks, horns, shells and nuts, Renaissance jewels, snuffboxes, Venetian and Flemish glass, majolica, Palissy and Henri II ware made up the collection.
One outstanding piece of craftsmanship was a mother-of-pearl model of a partridge, made by Georg Ryhl in about 1620 in Nuremburg. Its feet and beak were of silver gilt, while each feather was carved from a piece of mother-of-pearl. Among the items of metalwork were three finely modelled silver-gilt statuettes of Diana riding a stag ornamented with precious stones. They were probably part of a group of twenty similar models made in Augsburg for the coronation banquet of the Emperor Matthias in 1612.
The collections of Ferdinand de Rothschild
Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) lavish collections were part of his ambition to create a room full of precious objets d'art in the tradition of the Renaissance courts of Europe. Ferdinand collected throughout his life, inheriting many pieces from his father, Anselm.
The collection was remarkable for the way it reflected the achievements of goldsmiths of the early Renaissance and Baroque period who worked in ways described by Benvenuto Cellini. They used gemstones of many colours but also enamelling, using several techniques, to create polychrome jewels. Above all there are many examples of heavy sculptural pendants which were a distinctive feature of the second half of the 16th century, especially in Germany. The collection also includes three lockets, especially the Lyte Jewel designed to contain a miniature of King James I painted by the court-limner, Nicholas Hilliard.
The collection was bequeathed to the British Museum, where it is known as The Waddesdon Bequest. Read more on The British Museum website here »