The Paston Treasure: Riches and Rarities of the Known World

A major exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 23 June to 23 September 2018, organised in partnership with the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, USA

The Paston Treasure, unknown artist, Dutch School, c1663, oil on canvas © Norfolk Museums Service

The exhibition reunites, for the first time in three centuries, rare 17th century works of art and objects originally featured in a large (166.8 x 247.5cm), mysterious painting The Paston Treasure.

Painted by an unknown Dutch school artist, circa 1663, the painting’s unique and cryptic subject continues to mesmerize and puzzle art scholars and historians.

Featuring an array of exotic treasures from around the world, as well as animals and people, the painting chronicles a fraction of what was once one of the greatest private art collections of 17th century England, amassed by Norfolk’s Paston family, famed for their medieval letters.

So accurately have the items been observed by the artist that experts have been able to identify the exact origin and, in some cases, the makers of the treasures shown in the painting.

Miraculously five of the original objects recorded in the painting survive. These include a pair of silver-gilt flagons, a Strombus shell cup, two unique nautilus cups and a mother of pearl perfume flask.

These are brought together and displayed alongside musical instruments, rare timepieces, a globe, jewels, paintings and sculptures, all representative of the legendary Paston collection.

The exhibits have been loaned from distinguished national and international public and private collections and collectively they tell both a very Norfolk story and a genuinely international one.

The exhibition is the result of an intensive 10-year research project to unlock the painting’s many secrets and shed light on what was once one of the most distinguished art collections in Britain in the 17th century.