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234 × 156 × 25 mm
280 pages
26 illustrations, 17 in colour
13 Aug 2018
  • £20.00

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The Anatomy of Riches Sir Robert Paston’s Treasure Spike Bucklow

The Anatomy of Riches tells the story of one family’s long rise from rags to riches, and their rapid reversal of fortune. It focuses on the life of Sir Robert Paston, who experienced the family’s fall from grace at a time of momentous change, the beginning of the modern world.

The Paston wealth had brought luxuries from across the globe to an idyllic retreat in rural Norfolk. The family commissioned Europe’s finest craftsmen to enhance their rarities, and their lavish hospitality was famed throughout England. But the Civil War and plague tore the country apart, and peace-loving Sir Robert was assailed by what he called a ‘whirlpool of misadventures’, although he kept his faith and worked tirelessly to protect his wife and children. Encouraged by his friend Dr Thomas Browne, he even found time to pursue his interests, employing both an alchemist in search of the Philosophers’ Stone and an artist to capture his favourite treasures in an enigmatic still-life, The Paston Treasure.

‘If any painting can bear examination across the length of a whole book, it is this one, and Bucklow is extraordinarily well placed to delve into its mysteries. He is that rare kind of expert who brings both practical and academic expertise to bear on their topic. As part of the team behind the Treasure’s recent four-year restoration, he knows more about its material composition than almost anyone else, and has looked at it longer and deeper than even the most attentive of art historians can usually claim for their objects . . . It is no surprise that, like his previous books, The Anatomy of Riches is inflected by a combination of technical knowledge and personal insight . . . Like the Treasure, it is jammed with fascinating stuff.’ — Daily Telegraph

‘With its strange array of figures and objects, the Paston Treasure is one of the most memorable 17th-century paintings in Britain. Spike Bucklow delves into its enigmas to produce a compelling portrait of the man who commissioned it, and his world.’ — Apollo Magazine

‘[a] beautiful book . . . Bucklow’s animated, engaging book is linear in structure and much bolder in its reading of fragmentary, complex evidence. He believes that the vision behind The Paston Treasure is all Sir Robert’s – a “heroic aesthetic experiment” to parallel his alchemical experiments in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. Not everyone will be convinced, but at its most sure-footed – especially in discussing the role of pigments in those alchemical experiments – Bucklow’s narrative is a compelling read.’ — The Art Newspaper

‘"The Paston Treasure" is one of the most remarkable seventeenth century paintings in England. The name of its Dutch artist is lost; but the interests and careers of the man who commissioned it, the Norfolk politician, alchemist and landowner Robert Paston, are as fascinating as the work he helped bring into being. In this superb and wide ranging set of stories, based on unrivaled experience with the making and conservation of the painting, Spike Bucklow ingeniously evokes the many worlds embodied in the strange and surprising collection of curiosity and delights assembled in its complex imagery and the many materials from which it was composed. Ranging in scope from family history and deep philosophical inquiry to personal conflict, exotic travel and the fate of Royalist gentry in the violence of civil war, this book offers an indispensable guide to the cosmos and the culture of early modern England and the wider universes which it desired, studied, collected and brought to life.’ — Simon Schaffer

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Spike Bucklow is Reader of Material Culture at the University of Cambridge. His publications include The Alchemy of Paint (2009), The Riddle of the Image (Reaktion, 2014), which won the ACE/Mercers’ International Book Award 2015, and Red: The Art and Science of a Colour (Reaktion, 2016) which was placed on Choice magazine's 2017 list of Outstanding Academic Titles.


1 Ancestors
2 Growing Up
3 Going Home
4 The Gathering
5 Red and White Elixirs
6 The Scattering
7 Repentance

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Photo Acknowledgements