Spike BucklowUniversity of Cambridge Wednesday, February 24th, 2016, 6-8pm
History Building Room 302Stanford University
* Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for dinner *
“John Donne’s Melancholic Portrait”
Please see the Pre-circulated paper here
My research project while I am in residence at Stanford is this large (165cm x 246cm) still-life pronk-vanitas by an unknown Dutch artist which was restored at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. It is now back at the Norwich Castle Museum where a major exhibition is in the early stages of planning. One of the items featured in the painting is also in Norwich Castle Museum, others are in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the Prinsenhof, Delft.
The patron, Sir Robert Paston (1631-83), was a member of the family whose personal letters are the oldest surviving in the English language. He was a prominent Royalist, a founding member of the Royal Society and a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. His politics led to a rapid decline in the family's fortunes and his interest in science led him to employ an alchemist to make the Philosophers' Stone in a vain attempt to avoid bankruptcy. The painting shows a small selection of his treasures, the wholesale disposal of which is well-documented.
I have just embarked on research into the painting, its contents and patron. I am attracted to the subject as it throws light on relationships between the medieval and modern worldviews. For example, the perspective on the tabletop is purposefully distorted and the globe is turned to display the presence of China, the Pacific and America. I would like to explore some interesting parallels between Robert Paston's world and our own world.
It is my intention to write a book about The Paston Treasure. This would follow previous work on painting materials (The Alchemy of Paint, 2009) and on those materials' uses in medieval paintings (The Riddle of the Image, 2014). With this project, I would like to examine the materiality of what is depicted as well as the materiality of the depiction. My approach will be demonstrated with reference to another early modern painting, a portrait of John Donne.