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Inherited from his father, Anselm, in 1874, this was one of a small number of jewels that Ferdinand de Rothschild did not leave to the British Museum. Indeed, it remained in the Smoking Room following his early death in 1898. Copied from an original jewel then in Vienna, its distinctive form suggests it was made by a Hungarian goldsmith working in the middle of the 19th century.
In the terms of Ferdinand's will made in 1897, he left over 50 pieces of Renaissance jewellery to the British Museum. These were chosen for their artistic and cultural merit. A photograph of the Smoking Room at Waddesdon taken in 1897 shows these jewels carefully arranged in a display case. The inventory taken after Ferdinand's death on 17 December 1898 and completed by 2 February 1899, shows that a sizeable collection of objects were still displayed in the Smoking Room, probably moved from elsewhere in the Manor after the more important pieces left for the British Museum.
In the Smoking Room in February 1899, there were two ornately carved and gilded oval walnut frames (acc. nos 3813.1-2). They were described as displaying 'cinque cento ornaments' (16th-century jewels): 3 chains, 3 pendants and a framed intaglio. The parrot jewel was one of the pendants (see also acc. nos 866.1, 868). It is likely that these display frames were always intended for the Smoking Room, as the figures carved on the frame in 'Renaissance' style are reminiscent of the decor Alfred André (1839-1919) advised for the room (see D. Thornton, 'From Waddesdon to the British Museum', "Journal of the History of Collections" (2001), p. 197). They are also reminiscent of marketing displays used by 19th-century Parisian goldsmiths such as André.
Included in the Waddesdon Bequest were eight jewels that Ferdinand had inherited from Anselm. Ferdinand also gave the British Museum a more elaborate parrot jewel (inv. no. WB.165). The Waddesdon pendant's lesser quality, coupled with Ferdinand's desire to give unique specimens, was probably the reason he decided to keep it at Waddesdon. It was thought that the British Museum parrot was the one inherited from his father, but Anselm's catalogue mentions two chains rather than the three on WB.165. The sizes given in Anselm's catalogue also accord with the Waddesdon piece, making this a more likely candidate. Anselm certainly owned jewels of varying quality (see also acc. no. 2783).
Given this provenance, the jewel must have been made prior to 1866 when it appears in the catalogue of Anselm's collection. Close examination of the form of the jewel and the enamelling indicates it must have been made only a short while before it entered Anselm's collection. The open beak and feathery wings of the original jewel have been substituted for a more simple design.
The Waddesdon parrot was probably commissioned by a dealer with links to goldsmiths in either Vienna or Budapest. Pendants of animals, including parrots, were popular with 19th-century forgers, and Viennese dealers were certainly known to sell fake 16th-century enamelled jewels (see Y. Hackenbroch, "Reinhold Vasters, Goldsmith," Metropolitan Museum Journal, 19/20 (1984/85), p. 186, and P. Eudel, "Le truquage" (Paris, 1884), p. 87). It is also clear that Anselm was targeted by goldsmith-forgers such as Salomon Weininger (1822–1879) (see Charles Truman, ‘Nineteenth-Century Renaissance-Revival Jewelry’ in "Museum Studies, Art Institute of Chicago", 25 (2000), p. 88).
The parrot was definitely modelled on a late 16th-century Flemish jewel from the collection of Anna Maria de' Medici (d.1743), which was in Vienna until 1921 and is now in the Museo degli Argenti, Florence (inv. no. 2502). This jewel may have appealed to Anna as parrots were exotic status-symbol pets, and they were often associated with women and their sexuality. The asymmetric branch on the lower part of the jewel is not found on Anna Maria's pendant. Instead, it is very characteristic of Hungarian fake Renaissance jewels dating from around 1850 (see H. Tait, "Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1: The Jewels" (London, 1986), p. 128).
Goldsmiths working in Budapest certainly knew the Medici parrot design, as attested by a jewel attributed to the workshop of Henrik Egger (active c. 1880-1900) (National Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, acc. no. 13695, ill. online). Egger was also a forger and an antiques dealer with shops in Vienna and Paris (see É. Békési, ‘Neorokokó stílusú kehely a 19. század végéről, az Egger-testvérek műhelyéből’ "Ars Decorativa", 16 (1997),pp. 143-154). The man responsible for the Waddesdon parrot must have had similar connections earlier in the century.
Phillippa Plock, 2015
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
66 x 37 x 7; 72 (with suspension ring); weight 17g.
- Acquired by Baron Anselm de Rothschild (b.1803, d.1874); by descent to his son Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898); inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1963.
- Waddesdon (National Trust)
- Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1963
- Franz Schestag; Katalog der Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wien; Vienna; [n. pub.]; 1866-1872; p. 47, n. 340.
- Kirsten Piacenti, Renaissance and Baroque Jewellery, Apollo, 105, 1977, 422-427; pp. 422-23, fig. 1.; as early 17th century German.
- Yvonne Hackenbroch, Maria Sframeli; I Gioielli dell’Elettrice Palatina al Museo degli Argenti; Florence; Centro Di (Firenze); 1988; p. 64; as early 17th century.
- John Benjamin; Starting to Collect Antique Jewellery; Woodbridge; Antique Collectors Club; 2003; p. 42, ill.; as 16th century German.
- Phillippa Plock, Rothschilds, rubies and rogues. The 'Renaissance' jewels of Waddesdon Manor, Journal of the History of Collections, 2016, doi: 10.1093/jhc/fhv043; fig. 8.