The British Museum
Waddesdon Bequest Gallery

London, United Kingdom




The Waddesdon Bequest, donated to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild upon his death in 1898, is a superb collection of medieval and Renaissance objects the baron obtained in the art markets of Frankfurt, Vienna,
London and Paris during the second half of the nineteenth century. The collection, modeled on the Kunstkammern art collections seen in Renaissance courts, gives visible testimony to the rise of the Rothschilds as members of the new European aristocracy.

Exhibit Design: Stanton Williams, London

The architecture and exhibition design
Financed by the Rothschild Foundation, the new gallery both reviews the history of collecting and of nineteenth-century taste in general, and displays, to stunning effect, one of the museum’s most famous art collections.
Exhibition designers were inspired by the concept of the Kunstkammern in aiming to evoke a sense of surprise and wonder in the visitor, while at the same time reinterpreting the collection in a modern context. It places the collection
in its historical context and stresses its links with its original setting, the cosy New Smoking Room of the baron’s country retreat at Waddesdon Manor.

The challenge
The layout comprises 10 recessed display cases and 4 freestanding doublesided ones, 3 of which are extremely large as big as could be accommodated in the room where they stand. Gallery space was at a premium and staff needed unimpeded access to the freestanding cases, so Goppion created a new motorized system that reduces their opening clearances to a minimum: a massive roto-translation mechanism first transports the door forward, offsetting it parallel to the face of the case, then rotates it ninety degrees to align it with the short side. The cases are made entirely of laminated extra-clear antireflective glass, including the structural frameworks and dividers, which offers visitors unobstructed views of both the works in the cases and the gallery as a whole. A shock absorbing system protects the cases and their contents from any accidental jolting caused by large crowds. All the cases are fitted with an active climate control system. The London-based firm of Lapd designed the gallery lighting, skillfully utilizing recessed LED fixtures to illuminate the objects in the cases and the gallery itself without undue glare or reflection. The highly versatile system can easily adapt to any modifications to the exhibit over time.
The attention to detail within the cases is second to none: each small object has a custom-built mount to optimally highlight its features.