Directed by Michael Hoffman (1995; rated R; 118 minutes)
This lavish tale of romance and intrigue follows the life of a gifted medical student (Robert Downey Jr.) who joins the court of Charles II (Sam Neill) during the seventeenth century. The historical drama won academy awards for Costume Design and Art Direction.
This film is part of the series Art, Alchemy, and the Paston Treasure.
The Paston Treasure—one of the most enigmatic works of art in the Western canon—was painted circa 1663 by an unidentified artist to record a selection of treasures from the Paston family’s cabinet of curiosities. Consideration of this complicated painting reveals a world of art, science, travel, and collecting during an age that witnessed an increase in global trade and colonial expansion. The films in this series complement and play upon the exhibition’s investigation of the development of the Paston collection across time, as well as the groundbreaking technical study of the painting’s unusual physical attributes, some of which were likely the result of the patron’s alchemical interest in the nature of painters’ pigments. Themes of social ambition, the pursuit of treasure, the obsession with alchemy, and the preoccupation with eternal legacy are all brought to the fore with elements of humor, intrigue, and magic.