News item from 2014

Gilt Cups

Ashmolean Wins DCMS/Wolfson Grant for New Gallery

Press Release: 31 January 2014; for release: 10:30

The Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) has announced today that the Ashmolean is among the forty museums across the country to have won an award from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund. The £100,000 grant will be used to renovate and refurbish a gallery for the display of the Michael Wellby Collection of silver and exotic rarities.

Michael Wellby (1928–2012) was a member of a family prominent in the silver trade. At the age of eighteen, he took a part-time job in his father’s business where he acquired a lasting passion for the beauty and craftsmanship of early silver. He opened his own shop in Grafton Street in the 1960s, specialising in German silver of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in which he became an acknowledged expert. Both at auctions in London and on trips to the continent with his wife, Joy, he made many discoveries and acquired many rarities. Several of these were sold through the shop but a few exceptional pieces were added to the personal collection of some 500 pieces which were bequeathed to the Ashmolean on Mr Wellby’s death.

Spectacular pieces by or attributed to German and Flemish makers, often bearing the arms of their original owners, form the nucleus of the collection, alongside a number of equally rare pieces made elsewhere in Europe. Although most of the pieces are made of silver or include gold or silver mounts, several incorporate ivory, agate, shell, lapis lazuli or rock crystal carved with the virtuosity that is typical of pieces of this kind which have long been highly valued by wealthy collectors and are now rarely seen outside museums.

A small proportion of the collection has been on temporary display in the Ashmolean since February 2013, where it attracts visitors on a daily basis. The DCMS/Wolfson grant will be used to transform a gallery in the Ashmolean’s Western Art wing to display the entire Wellby Collection permanently. Taking inspiration from the famous Green Vault in Dresden, the gallery will be designed for a theatrical presentation suited this type of collection. Alongside new showcases, wall-mounted gilt brackets and mirrors will be employed to show individual pieces to best effect, giving visitors a sense of the grandeur in which these objects would have existed at the time of their creation. The Museum continues to raise funds towards the gallery project and it is hoped that the new gallery will be opened to the public in 2015.

Professor Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean, says: “The Ashmolean is profoundly grateful to the Department for Culture Media & Sport and the Wolfson Foundation for this generous grant. It will enable the Museum to create a dedicated gallery for the Wellby Collection which is one of the most important acquisitions in the Ashmolean’s long history.”

Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, says: “The range of projects being funded is testament to the great variety of wonderful collections and attractions at our museums and galleries across the country. These grants will help improve visitor experiences, benefiting local communities and helping to encourage growth, whilst also inspiring audiences with new knowledge, and I’m delighted that with the ongoing generosity of the Wolfson Foundation we have been able to help fund so many projects.”

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, says: “We are pleased to be working with government to fund outstanding projects at museums and galleries across England. The DCMS/Wolfson Fund is an excellent example of how a funding charity and government department can work productively together. The projects supported this round are impressive, and will help inspire visitors to the country’s wonderful museums and galleries.”

For more information please contact:

Claire Parris, Press Officer | T+44 (0)1865 278 178 | M+44 (0)7833 384 512 | @AshmoleanPress

Department for Culture Media and Sport Press Office | T+44 (0)20 7211 6271 | @DCMS

Notes to editors:

The DCMS announcement is available at:


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