Exhibition | The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World

February 15 - May 27

The seventeenth-century painting The Paston Treasure (ca. 1663) is an enigmatic masterpiece. Commissioned by either Sir William Paston, first Baronet (1610–1663), or his son Robert Paston, first Earl of Yarmouth (1631–1683), the identity of the painter, a Dutch itinerant artist working out of a makeshift studio at Oxnead Hall, remains unresolved, although candidates have been proposed. Adding to its mystique, the painting defies categorization because it combines several art historical genres: still life, portraiture, animal painting, and allegory. It has provided the opportunity to think anew about seventeenth-century studio practice and the painter-patron relationship. The painting makes its North American debut this year at the Yale Center for British Art in an exhibition organized in partnership with the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, UK.

Exploring the world of the Pastons, a landowning family of Norfolk famous for their medieval letters, this display will include nearly 140 objects from more than fifty international institutional and private lenders. On view will be five treasures from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that appear in The Paston Treasure painting: one of a pair of silver-gilt flagons, a Strombus shell cup, two unique nautilus cups, and a perfume flask with a mother-of-pearl body, which will be gathered together for the first time in more than three centuries. A host of other objects, many with Paston provenance, will tell the rich story of collecting within the family from the medieval period until the moment of the making of the painting. The collection was sold off within two generations of the painting’s completion, resulting in its worldwide dispersal today.

A film created for the exhibition will also explain the recent technical analysis performed on The Paston Treasure, helping audiences to understand how the painting was made and elucidating how the new research is invaluable in answering some of the riddles that have puzzled generations of scholars regarding the authorship and making of this strange and fascinating picture.

Image credit: Unknown artist (Dutch School), The Paston Treasure (detail), ca. 1663, oil on canvas, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich, UK, courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service


Yale Center for British Art
1080 Chapel St.
New Haven, CT 06510
United States




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