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Department Collections

The collection of Applied Arts contains about 30,000 pieces of decorative arts and sculpture from Europe, the Middle East, India and the Far East. These objects were used in the daily activities, and religious rituals of people in those areas, and are evidence for their social customs, beliefs, and taste in art. They illustrate the development of manufacturing techniques, such as weaving, potting and metal-working, and the stylistic changes brought about by the interchange of ideas and skills between different cultures. The main groups of objects are pottery, porcelain and glass, textiles, fans, furniture and lacquerwork; clocks and watches, domestic metalwork, including silver, pewter; jewellery and snuffboxes, armour and weapons, and sculpture in many different materials ranging from ancient Chinese jades to 20th century European bronzes.

There are exceptional collections of English and Continental ceramics largely due to the generous bequests of Dr Glaisher (d.1928) and Dr Shakeshaft (d. 2015), and of glass thanks to Reverend Alfred Valentine Valentine-Richards (d. 1933), Donald Beves (d.1961) and Professor Sir Ivor Batchelor (d. 2005). There are smaller, but choice collections of European arms and armour (much of it bequeathed by J. S. Henderson in 1933); Limoges enamels, English and Continental silver, jewellery and objets de vertu; furniture (including notable English clocks given and bequeathed by J. Prestige); textiles (especially samplers) and fans, mainly the Messel-Rosse and Lennox-Boyd collections. The sculpture collection ranges from medieval ivories to Renaissance bronzes (mainly from the Boscawen collection) to works by contemporary artists, acquired through the generosity of Sir Nicholas and Lady Judith Goodison via The Art Fund. The Department's non-Western holdings include an excellent collection of Islamic rugs, pottery and glass, and from the Far East, it preserves fine examples of Chinese porcelain, bronzes and jade and textiles; Japanese ceramics, lacquer and sword furniture; and thanks to the Gompertz Gift in 1984, an internationally important collection of Korean ceramics.

News & Events

Poet Laureate and novelists celebrate the collection

The Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, award winning writer Ali Smith and novelist, broadcaster and critic Sarah Dunant, all presented a gala reading of works written in response to the Fitzwilliam’s collections on Thursday 03 September.

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  • Polychromy Revealed

    We are planning a large-scale research project which will enable us to investigate, interpret, conserve and display the Museum's exceptional collection of medieval wood sculptures, largely polychrome, made across Western Europe c.1300-1550.

  • Designers and Jewellery 1850-1940: Jewellery and Metalwork from the Fitzwilliam Museum

    This project resulted in a beautifully-illustrated publication that will explore the Museum’s rarely-seen and exceptional collection of jewellery and metalwork, dating from 1850 to 1950. Focusing on individual designers, and often reproducing the original designs for the Museum’s objects, this book acts as a guide to the variety of styles that evolved during this dynamic period.

  • Michelangelo – A Discovery

    Unsigned and undocumented, yet evidently by a great Renaissance master, the Rothschild bronzes were loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum from summer 2014 until autumn 2015 and became the centre of a major international, interdisciplinary research project led by Dr Victoria Avery (Keeper, Applied Arts) and Professor Paul Joannides (Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Cambridge). Visual analysis and circumstantial evidence have permitted the Principal Investigators to propose that they are early works by Michelangelo, datable to c. 1506-08.  A multi-authored volume on the Rothschild bronzes is currently being prepared for publication (spring 2017). 

Online Exhibitions

  • Arming a Knight and his Horse

    On 29 May 2013, the Fitzwilliam Museum hosted its very own Armoury Extravaganza. This public-facing, interactive event sought to explore the human experience of wearing armour, highlighting the importance of fit, form, function and fashion.

  • Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

    A dazzling journey through the decorative arts: from the hand-crafted luxuries of the Renaissance to the first stirrings of mass commerce in the Enlightenment.


Recent Acquisition