Printed books & manuscripts
Encouraged by his father who gave him money to buy books, James Edouard de Rothschild (1844-1881) began to build up an impressive library from the age of 12. As an adolescent he devoted much of his leisure time to the study of history and bibliography, specialising in the study of old poets and great writers of the 17th century.
When he came of age in 1864, his grandmother, Betty, gave him a red leather-bound album containing all 32 original drawings by Franois Boucher with the series of etchings and engravings for the works of Molire. From his grandfather, James, he inherited a series of manuscripts and precious books which included the Heures de Pierre le Rouge, the Heures "l'usage de Rome by Verard (1498) and the Horae Deiparae Virginis Mariae of
French moral, satirical and historical poetry of the 14th and 15th centuries interested James particularly, but he also acquired a series of original illustrations by the most famous artists of the 18th century: by Marillier for the works of Le Sage and the Abbé Prévost, by Moreau LeJeune and de Saint-Aubin for the works of Voltaire, and by Moreau Le Jeune and Le Barbier for the works of Rousseau.
James combined a prodigious memory with technical knowledge, and he became an expert in the field of ancient French texts and bibliophily and the most discerning amateur of his day. James' library was left to his son, Henri (1872-1947), who made his own additions to it, and when, in 1946, he bequeathed it to the Bibliothque Nationale, it consisted of 24,000 volumes, with printed books, drawings, engravings and folios of songs. Henri's legacy included the request that the library be reconstituted using the original wood panelling.
Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990) built up an important collection of 18th-century books and manuscripts. He began collecting in 1932 while he was studying at Cambridge, but the majority of his purchases were made between 1935 and 1948 from booksellers or at auction.
Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) began collecting illuminated manuscripts in his twenties when he inherited the collection his father, James (1792-1868), had gathered together. He continued collecting into his seventies.
With his purchases of manuscripts from Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures including at least five superb Persian manuscripts, Edmond displayed a breadth of interest that surpassed that of his contemporaries. The quality of the painting and the condition of the manuscript influenced Edmond in his purchases, and he preferred late manuscripts and those which had belonged to royal personages.
His collection included the Hours of Charles the Noble, illuminated about 1405, and the Hours of Joan of Navarre, as well as his greatest illuminated manuscript, the Très Belles Heures of the due de Berry, with its 94 miniatures by the Limbourg brothers. He also had the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, one of the world's most famous books, illuminated in the northern Netherlands about 1440.
With its beautiful borders depicting realistic scenes of contemporary life - a domestic interior, for example, or Catherine of Cleves' own rosary - this piece was truly remarkable. Among Edmond's oriental illuminated manuscripts was a 16th century Shahnameh, the King's Book of Kings, now regarded as the greatest of all Persian manuscripts on a par with the Book of Kells. Edmond bequeathed the books to his three children, and many of them are now at Waddesdon, while others are in museums in the United States.
Charlotte, Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild (1825-1899) collected musical manuscripts by Chopin and Rossini, and on her death bequeathed two boxes of their manuscripts to the Conservatoire.