Are there limits to achieving beauty? The question may come off as comical to any member of the Rothschild family, who possessed the largest private fortune in the world during the 19th century. With their massive wealth came an insatiable aesthetic appetite, and in 1955, Baron James Mayer de Rothschild even once wrote that "no price is too high for the acquisition of true masterpieces."
Come October, collectors of all sorts will see if they agree with this sentiment, as the collections of Baron James de Rothschild, his wife Betty, and their sons Baron Alphonse and Baron Gustave will head to auction at Christie's Rockefeller Center. These masterpieces include important Maiolica produced in Renaissance Italy, headstone boxes, silver and silver-gilt sculptures, European furniture, Old Master paintings, and more. But, those with an affinity for precious stones may be seduced by the expansive selection of Rothschild jewelry to be offered.
"The jewels represent the connoisseurship and the lush tastes of the Rothschild family in the nineteenth century," Jonathan Rendell, Christie’s Deputy Chairman, Private and Iconic Collections, tells T&C. "The manner in which these extraordinary pieces were shown in the display rooms in the Rothschilds’ home on the rue Saint-Florentin, Paris, would have emphasized the prestige of the family. The effect of displaying them all together was to put people in awe."
Take a moment and recall the interior and jewelry styles of the Gilded Age Astor and Vanderbilt family. They are baroque with heavy detailing, gilding, wooden panels, and parquet flooring. That style stemmed from the Rothschild's taste, eventually called Le Gout Rothschild, which originated in France, Britain, Austria, and Germany during the nineteenth century when the family was at its height. The reputation of the family was so aspirational that it influenced other rich and powerful families across Europe and eventually the United States.
There is a vast selection of jewelry in the Rothschild collection that contributed to this style that will be present at the sale. For example, a brooch depicting a perched bird (c. 1890) made of ruby, emerald, diamond, and 18k yellow gold will be for sale, as well as an ornament made of petal-shaped rubies and emeralds (c. 1890). For horology collectors, a French Lapis-Lazuli pocket watch (c. 1950) finds its place in the collection as well.
Another part of the auction is dedicated to The Kunstkammer, which translates to "room of rarities" in German, where a series of rare architectural pendants (which lean towards religious connotations) will be sold. Among the items, a continental jeweled and enameled gold pendant of Judith and Holofernes reigns supreme. Their oldest, however, is a Roman Sardonyx portrait of the Emperor Claudius (c1593-1596). It is estimated to be sold for $200,000-$300-000.
"These jewels are miniature sculptures in precious stones, enamel gold. They are wearable works of art," Rendell says.
The sale will kick off with an evening sale on October 11, then go into two-day sales on October 12 and 13 with a concurrent online sale.
For more information, please visit Christies.com.
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