New Yorkers who had $1 and the inclination were given opportunity last week to inspect 82 objects that made up the greatest collection of medieval art ever to come to the U. S.one of the greatest in the worldthe Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure.
Guelphs and Ghibellines are names familiar to historians, confusing to the laity. Guelph comes from hwelp or whelp, meaning a wolf's pup, and Ghibelline is an Italian attempt to pronounce the name of the counts of Waiblingen.
Both families emerged from the primeval sludge in what is now Bavaria and Württemberg, first attracted attention about the 9th Century as merchants, bankers, warriors, finally ruling princes, but always as rivals. The later Guelphs were backers, supporters of the Papacy. The Ghibellines backed the Holy Roman Empire. In time the names were applied indiscriminately to adherents of either Papal or Imperial parties.*
Founder of the present collection was the Guelph Duke Henry the Lion, who died in 1195, left his son Otto IV the collection of gold and jewel-studded relics which grateful Eastern emperors had given him in Constantinople. Otto IV donated the treasure, adding more himself, to the Cathedral of St. Blasius which Henry the Lion had built in the city of Brunswick. Other Guelphs did likewise, bought saints' bones, holy skulls, jeweled monstrances, candelabra, etc. etc. After 300 years of this the Guelphs felt that they had collected enough. Ten years before America was discovered they made an inventory which might well serve as a catalog of the exhibition shown in New York last week. Until ten months ago the entire Welfenschatz remained in Guelph hands, property of the Dukes of Brunswick, Guelph descendants.
Last of the reigning Dukes of Brunswick is H. R. H. Ernest August Christian George, Duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, Prince Royal of Great Britain and Ireland, who married the Kaiser's daughter Victoria Louise in Berlin in 1913. He was forced to abdicate from the Duchy of Brunswick in 1918, has long been reputed one of the richest men in Germany, still maintains a sort of royal court in the Austrian province of Styria. Maintaining a private court runs into big money. Last year H. ex-R. H. announced that the Guelph treasure was for sale. The city of Hanover attempted to buy it, was unable to raise the money. The Duke of Brunswick, descendant of the Popes' most zealous defenders, sold the treasure to a group of three dealers: Z. M. Hackenbruch and J. Rosenbaurn of Frankfort; Julius Goldschmidt of New York, for approximately $5,000,000.
Messrs. Hackenbruch, Rosenbaum & Goldschmidt immediately put the Welfenschatz on public exhibition, first in Frankfort, later in Berlin. Seldom in the past 800 years have people been permitted to see it. Railways ran excursions from all over Germany, from France, Hungary, Poland. Day after day the museums were crowded with throngs of the artistic, anxious to admire the work of Romanesque and Gothic goldsmiths, of the pious, eager to venerate the skeleton arms of St. Lawrence and St. Sigismund, the skull of St. Blasius, the finger of John the Baptist and other anatomical remains.