Creating a modern schatzkammer

Earlier this month Stanton Williams' Tom Fotheringham gave a talk at the British Museum about the concept behind the design for the newly opened Waddesdon Bequest Gallery. Here is an extract from the talk:

From the brief set by the Museum, we came to the conclusion that this project was about creating a sense of wonder, and a connection between the objects on display, the craftsmen who made them and the people who collected them. Through the design, we wanted slow down the journey a visitor might take through the space, inspiring people by allowing them to focus on each piece individually; the objects were to be the primary focus of the experience.

This vast assortment of objects was collected by one man, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. It was amassed in an effort to gain influence in society through a reputation of discerning and sophisticated taste. As such, there is no specific narrative to the collection; they are simply items that the Baron liked. Originally housed at Waddesdon Manor, thec ollection was held in the Smoking Room of the Bachelors’ Wing. This exclusive part of the house was where the Baron would invite special guests to show his treasures. The room was a rich and luxurious space, lined with a warm, red wallpaper, suggestive of an opulent treasure chest. It conjured a feeling of a Schatzkammer, a Renaissance treasure chamber, the walls of which were lined with hundreds of objects glimmering in the darkness.

The design of the new gallery was developed from two perspectives: working from the objects outwards to understand each artefact’s display needs, and from the room inwards to understand the possibilities of Sir Robert Smirke’s original Reading Room interior for its new use. We felt that the new gallery at the British Museum should both invoke the qualities of a Schatzkammer and be reminiscent of the Smoking Room, recalling not only the spaces themselves but the way in which the objects were displayed.

We hope that the new gallery allows the collection to be fully understood in its historical context, with stronger links to the original home of the collection, Waddesdon Manor.

Smoking Room, Waddesdon Manor

Engraving of a Kunstkammer from Ferrante Imperato's Dell'Historia Naturale (Naples 1599)