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'A Rothschild Treasury' reveals more gems at Waddesdon Manor

by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Just some of the beautiful commissioned pieces of family jewellery from the 1920s – 1930s. Image (c) Neil Hennessy-Vass

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s French, 16th-century influenced, confection that is Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, has done it again. Just when you thought you’d seen everything (they are renowned for hosting varied and interesting shows throughout the year), the incumbent Lord Rothschild has opened up a new box of jewels in a smallish room superbly designed by Charles Marsden-Smedley. Previously used as servants’ quarters the room now houses over 300 unseen personal objects, which will be permanently on show from September this year.

We are not talking paintings or busts, sculptures or drawings, these items all have a personal association with the family. From jewellery, clocks and classical coins to Baron Rothschild’s watch chain, they also play their part in marking the unfolding European history. Darker aspects are in evidence too as some 20 items still have the Nazi inventory mark on them, showing the harrowing narrative of these precious items.

The treasury includes 12 pieces of Roman glassware. Image (c) Neil Hennessy-Vass

This epitome of the world of Rothschild collecting illustrates their passion for the unusual and interesting and always exquisite. There are 12 pieces of Roman glassware from 300-400AD that are in perfect condition. The luminance and vitality of the colours on the glass is incredible. There are some astonishingly beautiful commissioned pieces of jewellery for members of the family in the 1920s – 1930s. Frequently these have been altered to suit current predilections: an extra pendant diamond removed here, a truncation of length there, or the addition of pearls for an emerald brooch.

Extensive research has been carried out by the curator of Decorative Art, Mia Jackson looking into records of the Parisian jewellers to authenticate provenance of some of the adapted pieces in this small but mighty room. Waddesdon Manor is also moving with the times and has adopted a refreshing strategy to labelling the pieces on display by deciding to have no actual labels but encouraging you to download an app called Smartify which when using the camera on your own phone will identify what it is and give you a little more background to it and related objects. And here’s the clever part; it remembers what you looked at so that later on you can revisit the piece through the app and learn a bit more.

The Rothschild family has a personal connection to each item on display. Image (c) Neil Hennessy-Vass

Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections at Waddesdon Manor, sums up the whole exhibition perfectly. “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.”

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