Bead Basket

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The Holburne seeks support to acquire this rare seventeenth century Bead Basket

This is the perfect Holburne object: exquisitely made, historically fascinating, irresistibly charming and slightly mad.”

The Holburne Museum is seeking the public’s help to acquire for its permanent collection an outstanding seventeenth-century beadwork basket. Made in England around 1665, the basket depicts Charles II next to a castle within a leafy landscape.

To secure this rare object for its collection the Holburne needs the public to make donations totalling £6,000 towards the £78,000 cost of the basket, the majority of which is being sought through grants. The Museum has until July to raise £6,000. If you woukd like to support us you can make a donation here>>

Bead Basket

The figures are almost certainly intended to represent Charles II, who had recently been restored to the throne, and Catherine of Braganza. The figures are surrounded by many charming colourful beaded appliqués of flowers, birds, insects and animals. The composition is made from thousands of brightly coloured glass beads of varying sizes that have been skilfully threaded onto fine wires and attached to the mesh-like basket frame.

Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Holburne said, “This is the perfect Holburne object: exquisitely made, historically fascinating, irresistibly charming and slightly mad. Made in England in the seventeenth century, with its wealth of fanciful detail, it has much in common with our wonderful collection of seventeenth-century embroideries, but where they have faded, here the glass beads retain their astonishingly vibrant colours.

There are few other such baskets in existence, but none are as splendid as this example and none, that we know, with the glass lampwork heads and hands of the king and queen at its centre.

We need your support to raise around £6,000 for this exceptional object to become a permanent part of our collection. Please visit the Museum where the basket will be on display. We hope you will help us”.

The Holburne is taking part in a pilot project called DONATE where the public is able to make a donation using their mobile phone simply and quickly. The National Funding Scheme launched DONATE in March at the Southbank Centre with Griff Rhys Jones and Kirstie Allsopp.

Further information about how to support the Holburne can be found here 

For further information or images please contact Katie Jenkins
The Holburne Museum, tel or email

The use of lampworked glass heads and hands for the Royal figures is exceptionally rare and important. Although this basket belongs to a very small group of Restoration period beadwork baskets, it is the only known example with lampwork figures. An ancient technique, lampworking was developed to a very high standard in seventeenth-century Navers, Venice and Amsterdam.

Survivals from this period are rare. The glass beads were probably imported from Venice and the Netherlands. They have been skilfully threaded and arranged to suggest shading and perspective. The treatment of the sky is particularly unusual and effective.

It is not known what such baskets were used for. Although sometimes described as layette baskets, this is now disputed. Their use for herbs or gloves at weddings or festivities has also been questioned. They may simply have been decorative table centrepieces.

Like silk embroidery, beadwork was a fashionable pastime for amateur girls and women in wealthy households during the seventeenth century. It is known that girls were taught the art of bead working in much the same way that they were taught other forms of needlework and embroidery. Similarities between the wire basket frames in the group of known beadwork baskets suggests that the frames could be purchased ready-made in the same way that pre-printed or drawn embroidery canvases could be purchased.

Given the strong link between seventeenth-century beadwork and decorative embroidery, the basket will make an exceptional addition to the Holburne Museum’s small but important collection of seventeenth-century embroidered silk pictures. The seventeenth century was a golden age of British embroidery. The Holburne collection includes several pieces of national importance including a remarkable raised work embroidery depicting the Restoration of Charles II which relates directly to the beadwork basket. At present there are no examples of seventeenth-century beadwork in the collection.

The basket won Country Life’s Object of the Year award in 2012 for its rarity and astonishing condition. It was described as ‘testimony to the remarkable domestic needlework skills of women and teenage girls’ during this period.

The aim of acquisitions should be to improve the quality of the Museum’s holdings in the areas in which it is already strong to the benefit of the public’s understanding and enjoyment of the collection as a whole. No beadwork baskets are currently on permanent display in UK Museums. The Holburne would therefore be the only place nationally and one of only a few internationally in which to see this kind of work. Although the rarity and importance of this basket will undoubtedly appeal to experts, the immediate appeal of its bright colours, charming iconography and breath-taking craftsmanship is expected make it a favourite object with a wide range of visitors of all ages and expectations.

The Holburne Museum, Great Pulteney Street, Bath BA2 4DB
Open daily, free admission 10am to 5pm (11am to 5pm Sundays and Bank Holidays)
Tel: email:

In partnership with Bath Spa University

The Holburne Museum houses an important art collection formed by Sir William Holburne in the nineteenth-century, which includes paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and porcelain of national and international significance. Artists in the collection include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany.
The Museum reopened in May 2011 after ambitious renovations and a new extension by Eric Parry Architects. The Holburne has fast gained a reputation as one of a number of outstanding regional museums in the UK.

• Winner of the Museums & Heritage Award for the re-display of the permanent collection.
• Winner of RIBA Building of the Year, south west.
• Winner of the Civic Trust’s Michael Middleton Special Award for a restoration/extension project within a conservation area.


Published on: 23/04/2013