Illustration of the Tradescant Ark, Illustration by Alec Cobbe
John Tradescant's house
The Monument to the Tradescants at the Garden Museum, etching, published by Nathaniel Smith after Wenceslaus Hollar, 1793
The Tradescant Ark
The Tradescant Ark, a new gallery, is at the heart of the redevelopment project at Garden Museum. The gallery will display 20 objects on long-term loan from the Ashmolean Museum’s Tradescant Collection. Alec Cobbe has been commissioned to design the recreation of the Ark, which will be built around the loan of a small number of very precious items.
The Tradescant Ark tells the story of the Tradescants, whose collection was bequeathed to Ashmole, and became the core of the collection which made up the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest public museum. 2017 is the 400th year of Ashmole's birth; like the Tradescants, Ashmole was buried on the site of the Garden Museum, and his tombstone will be unveiled with the opening of the Garden Museum in May. The Tradescant Ark project has been generously supported by the Wolfson Foundation.
The Tradescants were famous gardeners to King Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and renowned for the plants they brought back to England from their travels all over the globe, including to Russia, North Africa, and North America. They had a botanical garden, alongside their museum at their home in Lambeth where they gathered their plants. St-Mary-at Lambeth was their local church where they would have worshipped.
The Tradescants created an Ark, or museum, to show off their amazing collection of artefacts which they had picked up on their travels, or acquired from the many wealthy patrons, merchant ships’ captains, and collectors which the family knew. The Ark was one of the wonders of seventeenth century London - objects which could be seen at their museum, included the cradle believed to have belonged to King Henry VI, the youngest person ever to succeed to the throne at the age of just nine months. Material from countries across the world, such as shields, shoes, swords, beads and dishes of precious stone could be seen, as well as miniature carvings of amazing skill, executed on cherrystones or plumstones. Rosaries, crystal balls, and religious talismans were also on show in the cabinet, as well as ‘natural history in a nutshell’ - animals and fish which might have been seen by the most well travelled of the time such as the North American elk, the Arabian gazelle, and the Scandinavian reindeer.
With the death of John Tradescant the younger, the collection was transported to Oxford where it became the core of Britain's oldest public museum.