Saturday, 9 April 2011

The de Zurbarán Paintings

There was some very good news in yesterday’s edition of the Church of England Newspaper: a philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer, has provided £15 million, the amount sought by the Church Commissioners, for the purchase of the de Zurbarán paintings. A further £1million has been provided by Lord Rothschild which will enable them to stay at Auckland Castle where they have hung since 1756. Auckland Castle will continue to be the home of the Bishops of Durham.

I could not believe it when I read that the Church Commissioners intended to sell these priceless works of art. Without the generosity of Jonathan Ruffer they could have be sold to a foreign art collector or gallery and a priceless heritage could have been lost for ever. Now with the involvement of Durham County Council and the National Trust, Auckland Castle will become heritage site with a trust to be established to care for the paintings.

In today’s Daily Telegraph reporting on this magnificent gift Gordon Rayner says: Zurbarán, a contemporary of El Greco and Velázquez, completed 12 paintings of Jacob and his sons between 1640 and 1645. They were bought by Bishop Richard Trevor in 1756 for £124. The 13th painting, of Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, is the work of the 18th century copyist Arthur Pond. Each of the paintings stands 8ft tall and hangs in the Long Dining Room at the Castle, which has been the home of successive Bishops of Durham for more than 800 years and is open to the public during the summer. More than 3,000 people had signed a petition demanding the sale of the paintings be stopped, and last week Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, urged the Commissioners to ensure the pictures could continue to be “enjoyed by the public”.

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