The Paston Treasure - a precious picture

The Paston Treasure is a painting in the care of the Norfolk Museums Service. In 2017 it went to Yale as part of a special exhibition there about the Pastons; in 2018 it came back to Norwich for a magnificent exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum. You can view the introductory talk to the Yale exhibiton by clicking here or the for a short introduction to the painting, watch The Paston Treasure: A Painting Like No Other) with commentary by Norfolkman Stephen Fry.

This picture was commissioned around the mid-1670s by Sir Robert Paston, first Earl of Yarmouth. Robert was given his earldom as reward for supporting Charles II while he was in exile. The Pastons lived at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk. They were a very wealthy and cultured family and collected art objects of all kinds. This painting represents a tiny part of the magnificent collections at Oxnead which included pictures and sculptures and gems as well as gold and silver. The collection was amassed mainly by Sir Robert and his father Sir William Paston.

There were no public museums in the 17th century. Art objects were commissioned and collected by royalty and nobility as a sign of their learning and status. Collections were displayed in a special room known as a 'cabinet' or a 'Schatzkammer' - German for 'Treasure Chamber'. The owners would invite their friends to visit, to admire and discuss their collections.