The Art Fund supports spectacular range of new acquisitions for The Ashmolean

  • 2 June 2008

The Art Fund provided the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeaology with a series of generous grants to support the Museum's ongoing acquisition programme, totalling more than £100,000.

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 towards these acquisitions which will add enormous value to the Ashmolean’s collections”.

For further information please contact Susie Gault:, tel: 01865 2889298
The Ashmolean, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH

Notes to Editors

Transforming the Ashmolean
Alongside the building of 39 new galleries, a new education centre, state-of-the-art conservation studios, and direct access between the Museum and the Cast Gallery, the Ashmolean has exciting plans to redisplay the collections. The innovative display strategy Crossing Cultures Crossing Time will present visitors with new ways of understanding how civilisations which have shaped our modern societies developed as part of an interrelated network, rather than in isolation. By making appropriate comparisons and connections, the display concept traces the journey of ideas and influences through the centuries and across continents.

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; putting together a unique funding package to ensure Dumfries House in Ayrshire and its contents were secured intact for the nation in July 2007; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit

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