Oxford's Ashmolean Museum receives Michael Wellby's incredible £10 million collection

By Culture24 Reporter | 31 January 2013
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A shimmering collection of Renaissance and Baroque gold and silver objects, collected during a lifetime in the silver trade by a friend of the museum who started out working part-time in his father’s shop more than 60 years ago, has been bequeathed to the Ashmolean in Oxford.

A photo of various small gold carvings of figures including bears, owls, sailors and ships
Elias Zorer, Silver gilt cup, a stag (circa 1605-1610). German, Augsburg© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Michael Wellby, a member of a prominent silver-collecting family, built up an exotic collection after opening his own shop during the 1960s, specialising in German works from the 16th and 17th centuries. The set of nearly 500 objects, worth around £10 million, is said to be of “the greatest rarity.”

“The Ashmolean is extremely grateful to Michael and his family,” said Professor Tim Wilson, the Keeper of the Department of Western Art who was a close friend of Wellby before his death last year.

“This is the most important accession of objects of this sort to any UK museum since the bequest of objects from Waddesdon Manor by Ferdinand Rothschild to the British Museum in 1898.”

Travelling with his wife, Joy, Wellby added the finest pieces from across the continent to his personal collection beyond the shop floor.

German and Flemish makers are largely responsible for them, with ivory, agate, shell, lapis lazuli (a blue gemstone) and rock crystal layering the virtuous carvings of the precious works of craftsmanship.
Semi-precious stones, exotic shell, ostrich egg, ivory and coconut shell also appear. One of the stand-out creations is a silver gilt ewer from early 16th century Portugal, enamelled with the country’s Royal Arms.

A new gallery is expected to be added to accommodate the collection, which curators are hoping to put on public display within weeks.

More pictures:

A photo of a series of small silver or gold sculptures showing ornaments and a bird
From left: Ulrich Munt, Nautilus shell with silver gilt cagework mounts (circa 1620-1625); David Stechmesser, Nautilus shell with silver gilt mounts formed as a crane (1600); Nautilus shell with silver gilt mounts (circa 1580)© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
A photo of three small shiny gold sculpted ornaments in intricate styles
Three silver gilt cups from Germany, possibly Nuremberg (circa 1490)© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
A photo of a small ornate gold reflective ornament
Silver gilt ewer with enamelled royal arms of Portugal (circa 1510-1515). Portuguese, possibly from Lisbon. German, possibly Nuremberg© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
A photo of a small blue gemstone sculpture with a small gold figure peering over it
Lapis lazuli cup with jewelled and enamelled silver gilt mounts (circa 1560). Stone from Milan. Mounts are from Paris (circa 1640)© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
A photo of a black and gold sculpture of a pouring vessel within a thin circular bowl
Serpentine ewer and basin with silver gilt mounts (circa 1580). German, possibly from Dresden© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
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