Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wood into Gold

From Art Happens by Francesca Vanke of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery:

Wood into Gold: 

Re-gilding the frame of The Paston Treasure

We want to re-gild the frame of this magnificent painting before it goes on display as the centrepiece of a major international exhibition.

Click on any of the links for more information and how to donate to this local historical and artistic cause.

Robert Paston

One wonders whether Robert was just interested in making money, or whether, like many others at the time, he felt that all the new developments in exploration and science, and the new discoveries about the world, meant that anything was now possible, and that age-old mysteries of life, like the Philosopher's Stone, were about to be revealed. Perhaps both ideas went through his mind.

Meet the man behind the Paston family's amazing collection of objects, which appear in The Paston Treasure.

Robert Paston (1631-1683) was an interesting man. An inventory of his library survives, which shows that he was extraordinarily learned. His books included works by leading past and contemporary figures from all around Europe, writing on history, politics, religion, philosophy, science and alchemy.

One of the more intriguing things about Robert is that he spent considerable time and effort on alchemical experiments. He had a laboratory at Oxnead and employed a full-time lab assistant, working with fellow alchemist Thomas Henshaw to try to make the fabled Philosopher's Stone. This mysterious object was reputed to turn base metals into gold, and had been sought by alchemists for centuries – but the experiments never succeeded. Sadly, like many of Robert's other money-making efforts, it was a failure!

The mid-17th century was a fascinating period, when the foundations of modern science were being laid down. Robert Paston seems to have had something of a foot in both camps – on the one hand, seeming to subscribe to beliefs in more old-fashioned ideas about alchemy and magic, while at the same time also operating within a more scientific outlook that formed what we would recognise as the beginnings of modern chemistry.

The Paston Treasure, (Dutch School, c.1670s, oil on canvas) is one of Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery’s rarest and most famous paintings, popular with visitors of all ages. It was painted by an unknown Dutch artist at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk around 1670 and portrays some of the treasures collected by the famous Paston family. These objects are dispersed around the world but the painting has always stayed in Norfolk, a vital part of the county’s heritage.

Research has shown that the ornately carved frame was in all likelihood made for the painting, but it would not have looked like this in the 17th century. It would have been gilded – the dazzling finishing touch to the depiction of a dazzling collection. Six years ago, we raised money to have the painting cleaned and conserved. Now we want to re-gild the frame and restore this masterpiece in its entirety to its former glory.

This is the ideal moment to go for gold. We at Norwich Castle are planning, in partnership with the Yale Center for British Art in the USA, a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition – to bring together as many of the Paston treasures as we can and reunite them with this picture for the first time in 350 years. To prepare for this major exhibition planned for 2018, we want the painting to look as it did when it was new, and as the artist intended – with the frame this remarkable painting deserves.

Gold has an eternal mystique and appeal. Robert Paston, the original owner of the collection and the painting, practised alchemy. He spent his life trying to understand the mysteries of nature, and trying to make gold. We now know this is impossible, but to turn this wooden frame into gold is easy – all we need is your help! To gild a frame, fragile sheets of gold leaf are carefully laid onto a prepared surface. Why not become a modern day alchemist and help us turn this frame gold, piece by piece?

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