Norfolk

Norfolk's Paston family treasures on display at museum

The Paston Treasure Image copyright Norfolk Museums Service
Image caption The Dutch artist who painted the Paston Treasure and the family member who commissioned it are unknown

Treasures in a painting depicting the wealth of a Norfolk family on the brink of disaster are the centrepieces of a new exhibition.

The picture shows rare items collected in world travels by the Paston family.

Two silver flagons, a Strombus shell cup, two nautilus cups and a perfume flask are together with the painting for the first time in 300 years.

The still-life reveals a dramatic and tragic story, Francesca Vanke, curator at Norwich Castle Museum, said.

The painting displays gold and silver, musical instruments, fruits and flowers, in addition to portraits of a young girl and an African youth.

Image copyright Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam
Image caption This world globe on display represents a missing item from the painting and is by Pieter van den Keere originally made 1612-14

The treasures depicted by the unknown artist were owned in the 17th Century by the Pastons - a famous Norfolk family whose country seat was Oxnead Hall outside Norwich.

Musical instruments, rare timepieces, a globe, jewels, miniatures and sculptures replicating riches featured in the painting are also on show.

Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art
Image caption These are the original silver-gilt flagons seen in the painting and the three items are together for the first time in 300 years.

Researchers have also deciphered sheet music shown in the painting which will be played during the exhibition. It is open until 23 September at Norwich Castle Museum.

The Pastons and their collection were doomed and the painting proves prophetic. The artist uses flowers, fruit, clocks and a guttering candle to symbolise time, vanity, and death, Ms Vanke said.

The Pastons over-reached themselves in spending and ambitions and within less than a century were bankrupt.

Image copyright Norfolk County Council Library
Image caption Oxnead in Norfolk was the home of the Paston family at the height of their wealth

By the 1730s the collection was sold, the male line had died out and their magnificent home, Oxnead Hall, where they once entertained King Charles II, fell into disuse.

The Paston family came to prominence in royal and commercial circles as lawyers and landowners during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century.

Upwardly mobile, they made advantageous marriages and bought more land with money earned through royal patronage serving the Tudors and Stuarts.

The famous Paston letters, discovered and published in the 18th Century, document this period.

Indirect descendants the Paston-Bedingfelds of Oxburgh Hall provided some items from the original treasure still surviving.

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