• 12 February 2018

The enigmatic seventeenth-century painting The Paston Treasure (ca. 1663) is the subject of the new exhibition opening on Thursday 15 February at the Yale Center for British Art.

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 categorisation 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.

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.

Above is a film created for the exhibition, narrated by Stephen Fry, which explains the recent technical analysis performed on The Paston Treasure, helping audiences to understand how the painting was made.

The exhibition is on at the Yale Center for British Art until Sunday 27 May.