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Treasures of the French Rothschild family’s collection to hit the auction block

Hundreds of exceptional works of fine and decorative arts from the Rothschild family collection dating back to the late 18th century will be auctioned off next month by Christie’s in New York.

The items for sale were owned by Baron James Mayer de Rothschild (1792 – 1868), his wife Betty (1805-1886) and their son Baron Alphonse and his wife, Leonora, from the founding generations of the French branch of the renowned banking and philanthropic family.

The collection to be offered in a series of four related “Rothschild Masterpieces” auctions includes hard stone boxes, silver and silver-gilt sculptures, tapestries, Limoges enamels, Old Master paintings, and 17th-century jewelry, among many other cultural treasures.

“[These items] were not displayed publicly, but were lived with and mostly enjoyed by the family at their Château de Ferrières outside Paris, and in a townhouse on rue St. Florentin,” said Jonathan Rendell, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s New York.

The October 3-17 sale marks the first time that objects from a Rothschild family collection will be auctioned in North America.

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When asked by The Times of Israel why nearly 600 items from the collection were being put up for auction, Rendell responded that “the current family members are rationalizing their collections.”

A pair of late Louis XV giltwood and white painted fauteuils from the Rothschild collection. (Courtesy of Christie’s Images)

Rationalization of a collection is driven by many different factors, which may include uncontrolled collecting in the past, increasing pressures on storage space, or the need to prioritize the collection’s aims and character.

Rendell said he believed that the Rothschild name in and of itself would attract buyers to the upcoming auctions.

“But Rothschild is also a great name in collecting, and the results of this sale will reflect the admiration connoisseurs have for the quality and taste associated with the family,” he said.

A Roman sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Claudius from the Rothschild collection. (Courtesy of Christie’s Images)

This quality and taste is known as le goût Rothschild, which combines the best of global curiosities, French decorative arts, and Old Master paintings to create a home of sophistication and comfort. This approach to collecting and décor was inspired by the houses of the German princes of the Renaissance.

“[The Rothschilds] would lavishly display their collections in luxurious and impressive yet comfortable houses,” wrote Paul Gallois, head of European Furniture at Christie’s in London.

“Yet their goût shouldn’t be defined by extravagance. It’s mainly about the identification of the best works of art at the highest level within historical and cultural contexts,” he emphasized.

The auction is divided into four sub-auctions, three live and one online. The 589 lots represent acquisitions by the Rothschilds from the late 18th century through the 20th century. There is something that will catch every eye, from jewelry to paintings to furniture to tableware — and much more.

Among the most captivating items are a Roman sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Claudius. Rendell noted that this is one of his favorite lots.

“I am attracted to the many objects in these sales that encapsulate long stretches of history. For example, the cameo portrait of the Emperor Claudius. It embodies two millennia. It dates from ancient Rome, was set in Germany in the Renaissance, was owned by some of the greatest noble families of England including Arundel and Marlborough, and was sold in the legendary Marlborough Gems auction at Christie’s in 1899,” he said.

Detail from leather panels depicting David’s triumph over Goliath from the Rothschild collection. (Courtesy of Christie’s Images)

Among other fascinating items is a set of 11 life-size painted and embossed leather panels depicting David’s triumph over Goliath dating to the Netherlands c. 1650 with provenance from Weißenstein castle in Pommersfelden, Germany.

Anyone who loves bright and dynamic colors will be entranced by a large selection of Maolica, ​​tin-glazed pottery produced in Renaissance Italy, mostly depicting historical or mythical scenes.

A French Renaissance diamond set and enameled gold badge of Saint Michael and the Dragon from the Rothschild collection. (Courtesy of Christie’s Images)

The collection is undoubtedly captivating, but the prices of most lots — ranging between tens of thousands to millions of dollars — are beyond the means of most.

Rendell countered that some lots are within reach of anyone interested in either the Rothschild family name and history or in starting a collection of beautiful objects.

“There is an enormous range within this week of sales. There are masterpieces fit for museums and works at the level of a beginning collector. One of the sales, which is online, has 200 lots with starting bids at $100. I defy anyone to resist a bid or 10,” he said.

When asked whether there was any indication where the proceeds of the auction might go, Rendell responded, “Christie’s has no comment on this private matter.”