Forget Vienna – Britain now has its own chamber of curiosities at the British Museum

Detail of a maiolica vase, c.1565–1571, a star piece for both Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill and later for Baron Ferdinand at Waddesdon Manor

Originally published in The Spectator

One thought on “Forget Vienna – Britain now has its own chamber of curiosities at the British Museum”

  1. Those items belonging to Baron Anselm von Rothschild (1803–74), plus others amassed by Ferdinand himself (1839–98), are now sumptuously lit and housed in a new gallery designed by the architects Stanton Williams. Essentially, the Waddesdon Bequest — the name comes from Baron Ferdinand’s country house where the objects were kept before he left them to the BM — is a Victorian recreation of the treasuries put together by the aristocrats of h- and h-century Mitteleuropa. This is the nearest thing we have in this country to a chamber of curiosities, Kunstkammer or treasure room of the kind that still survive in Vienna and Dresden. The Bequest contains not wonders of nature — as some such collections did — but marvels of craftsmanship. It is a mixture of the rich and strange, the beautiful and the downright peculiar, all jostling each other as if in an expensive antique shop.

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