History seminars at the IHR

Collecting & Display (100BC to AD1700)

Convenors: Dr Andrea Galdy, Susan Bracken, Adriana Turpin

Venue: Wolfson Room I, in the IHR basement, unless otherwise stated.

Time: Monday, 6.00pm

If interested persons are not receiving emails from the conveners, they should contact collecting_display@hotmail.com.

Autumn Term 2014
DateSeminar details
13 October Creating le gout Rothschild: the English Rothschild family in the nineteenth century

Nicola Pickering (curator at Eton College)

This paper will focus on the English Rothschild family in the nineteenth century and the style of decoration and nature of collecting which came to be known as le goût Rothschild. The interiors and collections of six Rothschild residences in the Vale of Aylesbury and the collecting activity of their six owners feature in this paper.  It will be argued that a shared Rothschild taste which was common to these residences and collections was not unique in this period, but was certainly distinctive. Many of the interiors of the Rothschild mansions in the nineteenth century had common elements: overall the interior ensembles were highly decorative; the furnishings were generally luxurious, and boiseries and antique tapestries were often present. Furthermore the decorative arts which were most plentiful were those of the French eighteenth-century.

In these tastes the family did not differ dramatically from existing nineteenth-century trends, they did not initiate new fashions in collecting or the presentation of domestic spaces and in general their preferences were an endorsement and elaboration of the established styles favoured by the landed classes. Yet the Rothschilds’ presentation of their residences and their collecting activities in the nineteenth century were considered by contemporaries to be especially noteworthy and distinctive. The reasons why the phrases le goût Rothschild or le style Rothschild (with their implied sense of uniqueness) may have come into existence will therefore be explored in this paper.

The wider family network to which the English Rothschild family members belonged and their particular pan-European background, were among the most significant influences on the formation of their collecting tastes. It will also be shown that the carefully devised furnishing of the family’s country residences was conducted in collaboration with a network of dealers all over Europe. Names such as Alexander Barker, Charles Davis, Samson Wertheimer, John Webb, Samuel Pratt, the Durlacher Brothers and the firms of Annoot and Gale and Nixon and Rhodes feature frequently on receipts for purchases the Rothschilds made. These dealers often advised the family members on what to buy, acted as agents, and compiled catalogues of their collections. The repeated use of foreign styles and sources in the English Rothschild’s residences and collections therefore reflected the preferences and inherited interests of the wider Rothschild family network, but also those of these dealers and agents.

The wider family network to which the English Rothschild family members belonged and their particular pan-European background, were among the most significant influences on the formation of their collecting tastes. It will also be shown that the carefully devised furnishing of the family’s country residences was conducted in collaboration with a network of dealers all over Europe. Names such as Alexander Barker, Charles Davis, Samson Wertheimer, John Webb, Samuel Pratt, the Durlacher Brothers and the firms of Annoot and Gale and Nixon and Rhodes feature frequently on receipts for purchases the Rothschilds made. These dealers often advised the family members on what to buy, acted as agents, and compiled catalogues of their collections. The repeated use of foreign styles and sources in the English Rothschild’s residences and collections therefore reflected the preferences and inherited interests of the wider Rothschild family network, but also those of these dealers and agents.

Nicola completed her doctorate at King’s College London in 2013. This was an AHRC collaborative award in partnership with the Rothschild Archive, London. Prior to this course of study she undertook an MA in Curating at the Courtauld institute and an MPhil in the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Cambridge.

She is now curator at Eton College and formerly worked for the National Trust as a curator, working in the London and South East region. In the past five years she has also worked in the curatorial departments at Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal Collection, the National Portrait Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery.


3 November Princely Pleasures: The Picture Collection of Robert Dudley (1532/3-1588), Earl of Leicester

Dr. Elizabeth Goldring (University of Warwick)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was one of the most colourful, fascinating, and controversial people of his day. Although best known today as Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite (and the most militant Protestant at her court), Leicester was also the most important and innovative patron of painters and collector of paintings at the Elizabethan court. With the help of his nephew and heir, the poet-courtier Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester amassed a substantial collection of art, including commissioned works by Nicholas Hilliard, Hendrick Goltzius, François Clouet, Paolo Veronese and Federico Zuccaro. Leicester also fostered the birth of an English vernacular discourse on the visual arts and was an early exponent, in England, of the Italian Renaissance view of the painter as the practitioner of a liberal art and, thus, fit company for the educated and well-born. In spite of the fact that Leicester’s pictures and personal papers were widely dispersed in the immediate aftermath of his death, new archival research has permitted Elizabeth Goldring to bring to life this lost world – and with it, a turning point in the history of British collecting. Drawing on the findings presented in her newly published book, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I (YUP/The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2014), Dr Goldring will provide an overview of Leicester’s picture collection and of the broader cultural environment in which it was created and experienced.

Dr. Goldring is an Associate Fellow of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. She is the author of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, which has just been published by Yale University Press/The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and General Editor of John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources, which was published in five volumes by Oxford University Press earlier this year.

The seminar takes place at Senate House, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU.

We look forward to welcoming you.

Venue: Athlone Room 102, 1st floor, South block, Senate House


1 December Cabinets of Curiosities: 500 Years of Representation and Mis-representation

Dr. Arthur MacGregor (Joint Editor of the Journal of the History of Collections)

Now used all too often as a portmanteau term for almost any gathering of miscellanea, the concept of the cabinet of curiosities has come a long way down in the world from its early, highly structured meaning. The many dimensions encapsulated in early collections admittedly makes them difficult to characterize succinctly: even those of outwardly similar composition might be interpreted very differently by their owners - and indeed by successive owners through time. The many false trails presented by contemporary catalogues, inventories and pictorial illustrations only add to the problems of interpretation, with some closely reflecting the contents (and even conditioning their display) and others following entirely different agendas. Yet a number of recurrent themes can be detected which allow us to identify some salient characteristics recurring from the Renaissance beginnings of the cabinet to its fall from fashion with the rise of Enlightenment values and post-Linnaean concepts of classification. A number of these themes will be discussed as the progress of the cabinet is followed in the context of changing preoccupations among collectors.

Venue:  Torrington Room, 104, 1st floor, South block, Senate House


Spring Term 2015
DateSeminar details
5 January C. F. Walker I taccuin: Note book of Bardini's clients

Annalea Tunisei

A notebook or taccuino entitled Appunti di Londra was found on the Bardini archive in Florence and it reveals the marketing technique adopted by Bardini. His agent in this case, a certain C. F. Walker, travelled around Europe and reported carefully interesting details regarding new potential clients.  Bardini would give extremely clear instructions to his agent, asking him to determine the personality, habits, financial possibilities, behaviour and understanding of art of each of these collectors. The taccuino is divided into three sections: London, Brussels and Paris and appears to have been written around 1892. The clients were mainly bankers, wealthy professionals and captains of industry who followed the fashion for collecting. Sometimes their purchases were based on a thorough knowledge of art, and sometimes they only served the purpose of displaying their owner’s wealth.  Appunti di Londra reveals the clarity with which every client was portrayed in just a few short notes. The first section of the notebook, entitled Amatori di Londra, is dedicated to London’s private collectors. The aim of this paper is to analyse the notes written by C. F. Walker, his use of the language and the subtlety of his psychological analysis of every single collector. We will see how Bardini established a circular relationship with English collectors. In Florence he was influenced by their taste while in London he was becoming influential.

Annalea Tunisei: After the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Annalea worked for sixteenth years as Art director / set designer in Milan. In 2007 she started the MA course at University of Warwick, IESA School, History and Business of Art and Collecting. In July 2014 she was awarded a PhD in museology at Leeds University with the title; Stefano Bardini's Photographic Archive: A visual historical document. Her research interest began with the Florentine Art Dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) and focuses on mediaeval and Renaissance revival in Florence and in England, and the iconological analysis of nineteenth century photographs and interior’s displays. She is preparing a Post doc project on the relationship between Stefano Bardini and his English clients in Italy and in England.