The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World

The Paston Treasure, a spectacular painting now held at Norwich Castle Museum, depicts objects from the collections of a local landed family. The Pastons established one of the most extensive cabinets of rarities and curiosities in seventeenth-century England—it boasted no fewer than six hundred decorative art objects, including shell cups, crystal vessels, a pair of crocodiles, gemstones, musical instruments, and paintings. During the 1660s, either Sir William Paston or his son Robert Paston, first Earl of Yarmouth, and his wife, Rebecca (née Clayton), commissioned a picture that functions as a kind of heirloom portrait, celebrating the family’s legacy of collecting, while providing a tantalizing glimpse of the riches they accumulated over the generations.

This volume accompanies an exhibition that unites objects depicted in the painting for the first time in nearly three hundred years. This multidisciplinary exposition of the painting, the Paston family, and their world draws on a wide range of fields, including history of art and of collections, technical art history, musicology, and history of science, as well as the broader social and cultural history of the seventeenth century. Technical analysis has made it possible to delve beneath the surface of the painting itself, revealing unexpected changes during its production and illuminating the material history of a masterwork that has in the past defied firm attribution, dating, and interpretation.

Using the painting as a portal to the history of the collection and its owners, The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World weaves together narratives of the family and their possessions, the objects, and the institutions that eventually acquired them.  

Edited by Andrew Moore, Nathan Flis, and Francesca Vanke