Striking Gold


thisisbossiThe Ashmolean Museum has received a substantial donation of gold and silverware as a bequest from the late antique collector Michael Welby.

The gift of the collection, comprised of nearly 500 items, was announced by the Museum at the end of January. The items range from the sixteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century, and are likely to be displayed within the next month.

The Museum has been reluctant to estimate the worth of the collection as a whole, with Professor Tim Wilson telling The Guardian: “The measure here tends to be ‘what would the Prince of Liechtenstein be prepared to pay?’”

Nevertheless, individual pieces have been valued at up to £3 million, including a lapis lazuli bowl crafted by Dutch goldsmith Paulus van Vianen. Whilst the majority of pieces do not rival the bowl’s worth, the sheer quantity of items has led to conservative valuations of the collection at £10 million.

Many items within it were gained from sources within Germany within the 1940s, leading to press speculation that the Nazis acquired some of the objects as a result of the persecution of Jewish families.

Although Professor Wilson has been quick to point out that the Museum is always keen to take part in government schemes to return pieces to affected families, he has conceded that many of these types of objects were held in quantity by Jewish dealers.

However, an Ashmolean spokesman emphasised that Mr Welby “would not have knowingly acquired any object which he had reason to believe had been looted from or sold under duress by a Jewish family in the period of Nazi rule.”

They added: “Now that the collection is at the Ashmolean, it will be the subject of expert research and the Museum will publish information as soon as it can about the objects and, where possible, about their provenance.”

Welby assembled his collection over a lifetime in the antiques trade, occasionally choosing not to sell items of particular significance. Other important items in the collection include a Portuguese silver gilt pitcher, enamelled with the Portuguese royal crest and dating from between 1500 and 1515.