The Ashmolean acquired a spectacular range of new works of art in 2007 with support from The Art Fund
To add to the Museum’s diverse collections, the Ashmolean acquired objects and works of art dating from late antiquity to the 20th century, originating from East and West. The grants included £85,000 for the Wilshere Collection of Early Christian and Jewish antiquities; £25,000 for the lacquer writing set by Tomita Koshichi; £3,200 for the drawing The rise of the Florentines against the Duke of Athens by Luigi Sabatelli; £3,000 for the maiolica plate Time unveiling truth by Ferdinando Maria Campani; £2,000 for Siena (1966) by Ben Nicholson; and £1,000 for a portfolio of etchings by the contemporary artist Not Vital.
The most substantial of the acquisitions are the Wilshere Collection of gold glass and sculpture and the lacquer writing set by the Japanese artist Tomita Kōshichi. The glass provides evidence of early Christian and Jewish life in Rome in the fourth century AD. It bridges a gap in the Museum’s collection, illustrating key chapters in the history of glass-making and the art of late antiquity. Among the sculptures and inscriptions, decorated sarcophagi feature Christian themes of the Betrayal of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem and the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A noteworthy group of inscriptions are decorated with menorahs. These come from the Vigna Randanini catacomb discovered in 1857, one of six to have been used by the Jews of ancient Rome.
Charles Wilshere (1814-1906), was a student of ecclesiastical history and antiquities. He acquired the collection during his travels to the Continent, and bequeathed the glass and sculpture to Pusey House, Oxford. The glass fragments have been on loan to the Ashmolean since 1957 and the marble objects were lent to the Museum in 1984.
The writing set was made in the late Meiji period (1868-1912). Tomita won several awards at international exhibitions from the 1890s and in 1901 became a lecturer in the lacquer department of the Kyoto Art School. There are relatively few remaining works by him and this is one of the finest. It will play an important role in the new Japanese galleries that are being created as part of the Ashmolean’s current redevelopment project. With its hybrid composition and decorative sophistication, it will be a perfect illustration of the cross-cultural themes the museum will be exploring in its new displays.
Sabatelli’s study of a battle in medieval Florence enhances the Print Room’s small group of Italian nineteenth-century drawings. Campani’s plate, dated Siena 1749, is the first piece in a British public collection from the only known and recently identified armorial maiolica service made for a Grand Tourist. Notes Too by the Swiss artist Not Vital expands the Ashmolean’s group of contemporary prints from German speaking countries and the etching by Ben Nicholson is an important addition to the British 20th century graphic art collection.
David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said, "Over the years The Art Fund has provided The Ashmolean with grants that have helped save over 9,500 art works which include an extraordinary variety of objects. Recent examples include the rare fragments of roman gold glass from The Wilshere Collection which once adorned the roman catacombs, and a magnificent example of late nineteenth century lacquer ware."
Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean, said, “We are extremely grateful to The Art Fund for their generous contribution which has allowed us to acquire a significant number of key works for the Museum’s Collections”.