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Major Hamilton Acquisition

  Hamilton Rothschild Tazza 

 © National Museums of Scotland 

With the help of the Virtual Hamilton Palace Trust, the National Museums of Scotland has recently acquired one of the most important items in the Hamilton Palace collection: the Hamilton-Rothschild tazza.

This outstanding and fascinating piece was assembled by Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852), Scotland’s greatest collector. The 10th Duke purchased the exceptionally large Byzantine sardonyx bowl while he was British ambassador in Russia in 1807-8, in the belief that it was the holy water stoup of the Emperor Charlemagne (742-814). Priced at 9,000 roubles, it was his most expensive Russian purchase.

In 1812 the Duke bought the enamelled gold foot from the British royal goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, for the then large sum of £241 18s 6d. It had formed part of a large gold monstrance that had been sold at auction in London the previous year as loot from the Spanish royal monastery of the Escorial, near Madrid. Recent research has revealed that the monstrance was, indeed, given to the monastery by the Emperor Philip II of Spain in the mid 16th century.

The ‘Bénetier de Charlemagne’ was used for the baptisms of both the Duke’s children, William, the future 11th Duke of Hamilton, and Susan, in 1811 and 1814. The use of a bowl associated with the founder of the Holy Roman Empire reflected the Duke’s deeply held belief in the high status of the House of Hamilton, as premier peers of Scotland, the holders of three dukedoms and the true successors to the Stuart kings of Scotland.

Valued at £1,500, this extraordinary creation was the most highly insured item in Hamilton Palace, in South Lanarkshire, during the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Hamilton-Rothschild tazza was one of six outstanding items purchased privately from the 12th Duke of Hamilton by Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918), a member of the great banking family, shortly before the famous Hamilton Palace sale in 1882. It passed down in the Rothschild family and was inherited by Mr Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2009), the chairman of N.M. Rothschild and Sons.

The Hamilton-Rothschild tazza has been accepted by Her Majesty’s Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and was allocated to National Museums Scotland in July 2012.


19th November, 2012

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