Ashmolean Museum In Oxford Receives Major Gift Of Renaissance Art

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has received a major bequest in the form of nearly 500 works of Renaissance gold and silver from the collection of Michael Wellby (1928–2012), the museum has announced.

Wellby was a well-known antiques dealer specializing in German and Flemish silver of the 16th and 17th centuries. He ran a shop in London for many years. As is typical with antiques dealers, he kept some of the best pieces for his personal collection.

Some of the pieces were made for royalty, like a silver gilt ewer made in Portugal c.1510-15 that bears the Royal Arms of Portugal. Another stunning item is a lapis lazuli bowl with gold mounts made in Prague in c. 1608 by the Dutch goldsmith Paulus van Vianen. Many of the pieces incorporate exotic materials such as ostrich eggs and nautilus shell, items that were just becoming available to the wealthy of Europe through the new global trade routes.

The collection will go on display in a temporary gallery this month and will remain there until a new permanent gallery is opened to house the collection. The Ashmolean already has an impressive collection of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern art, including a large display of English silver.

The Ashmolean, like the equally famous Pitt-Rivers, are both free museums, making Oxford a good budget travel destination.

[Photo copyright The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]

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Masterpieces of silver in Antwerp

Belgium is famous for its silver. Belgian silversmiths have a history stretching back hundreds of years. Their work has always been sought after for its high degree of craftsmanship and so it’s no surprise there’s a Silver Museum in Antwerp dedicated to the craftsmen that make these works of art.

Besides talent, they have a sense of humor too. This wine cup, shown here in a photo copyright Hugo Maertens of Bruges, is actually an early drinking game. It’s shown upside down so you can get a good view of the clockwork mill. When it’s wound up, the mill begins to turn and the people climb up the stairs. After a few seconds the clock strikes 11, and if you haven’t drained the cup you have to drink 11 more times. The fact that this was made back in 1688 or 1689 shows just how good the Belgian silversmiths were, and what people liked to get up to on their off hours.

Antwerp has been a center for silversmithing for 500 years and the Silver Museum is in the castle of Sterckshof. Different sections explain how silver is mined, processed, and worked. Sumptuous displays of silver items from all times fill the many rooms.

Until 9 April 2012 there’s a special exhibition called Esthétique Moderne focusing on Belgian silversmiths of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This covers the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. It’s an impressive collection of works of art. For images from the exhibition, check out the gallery, and if you like seeing beautiful works of art, check out the Silver Museum.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: The oldest printing press in the world!

This trip was partially funded by Tourism Antwerp and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.


Galley Gossip: A question about packing jewelry

Dear Heather,

I meant to ask you before my vacation — what’s your secret for packing jewelry? In what do you pack it and how? Some outfits I have look better with gold, and some look better with silver. Then there’s a myriad of “fun” jewelry that include bracelets, necklaces with different charms, earrings to match, etc. The thing about the “fun” jewelry is that it causes the security alarms to go off in some places, so I try not to wear it on days of travel, wearing either gold, silver or nothing at all, which means I’m forced to pack it. Just curious as to how you did it so it wouldn’t get broken, tangled or lost.


Dear Angela,

My secret to packing jewelry is simple. I don’t pack it. Ever. When I’m working a trip I wear my wedding band, a necklace and a nice watch. When I’m traveling for pleasure I might pack a cheap bracelet and a few pairs of earrings that wouldn’t cause me distress if they were to become lost, stolen, or broken. But I always leave the good stuff at home. When it comes to traveling, I firmly believe that less is more and that includes the jewelry. I mean do you really need all that silver and gold to go with all those outfits? And where will you hide it all after you’ve checked into your room? I ask because I’m not so sure I’d trust the hotel safe with something really valuable. I’ve used the safe on several occassions, and while I’ve never had any problems, I can’t help but wonder who many people out there have access to the code.

I decided to contact an expert who deals with security and high net worth. When I told him your question about traveling with jewelry, he had this to say…

I assume this is more than one piece and would be considered valuable. Couriers are told the same as I will tell you. You never pack your jewelry. Hand carry only. If you put it in your suitcase TSA will screen it and G-d knows who else. If its stolen from your suitcase you will get a few hundred dollars based upon their limit of liability which should be on the back of your ticket. No evidence, no suspects, no police investigation, no crime scene, no responsibility and if you by chance ever proved it, you will be in court with the Dept of Homeland Security until you grow old.

I would put the jewelry in a sandwich bag and hand carry it in your carry on. Leave it on top but put a few things over it. Watch the bag go through the x ray before you pass the metal detector. If they want to look at the bag ask for a private screening. Also ask for a supervisor or second screener to be present. You will not be allowed to touch your bag but they will be able to see the jewelry through the sandwich bag without having to touch it either. Do not leave the bag unattended for any reason during the inspection. Maintain hand or sight of the jewelry at all times even if you are asked by an agent to move. You are never to separate yourself from your property until the bag is returned to your custody.

Hope that helps, Angela! If you (or anyone else) have another question feel free to email me at

Happy travels!

Heather Poole

Photos courtesy (Suitcase) Remon Rijper (Woman) Simone Koster

Virgin Atlantic Flyers: Get free Silver status with your Amex

You’ve probably heard me preach about the virtues of elite status when flying around the world: shorter security lines, first class upgrades, lounge membership and free drinks await those willing (or forced) to spend extra time in the skies.

It takes a fair amount of work to achieve status though — more time than the average bear has. Unless you can find a shortcut, that is. Luckily, we have American Express to sponsor that shortcut. They’ve teamed up with Virgin Atlantic to offer free Silver Status to anyone joining Virgin’s Flying club.

And what are the perks? Well for one you get an extra free 25% miles per flight. That means your typical transatlantic 3500 mile hop between New York and London will net you 4375 miles — 875 miles closer to a free ticket. You’ll also get complimentary single First Class upgrade vouchers for the Gatwick & Heathrow express trains. Full benefits can be found at Virgin Atlantic’s website here.

Another thing to keep in mind is that miles you earn on Virgin you can credit to other airlines. So just because you don’t have an account with them you can always open one up and funnel the miles to Continental or Delta. Check out the partner airlines under the “Flying Club Partners” link.

Ready to get started? Follow this link.