What you’ll see in Bishop Auckland’s new Spanish gallery

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THE COUNTY of Durham, with its rich industrial heritage, might not seem like an obvious place for a gallery dedicated to art from the Spanish Golden Age.

Yet it is a surprising perfect place.

The county was home to the mighty Prince Bishops, and Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, was their campaign seat.

In 1756, Bishop Richard Trevor purchased a remarkable series of Old Testament paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, depicting Jacob and his twelve sons.

Read more: A first in the UK with the opening of the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland

He managed to purchase 12 of the 13 and then ordered a copy of the last, from Benjamin, and they hung in the Auckland Castle Long Dining Room for the next 265 years.

It was their sale by the church commissioners that first brought Christian financier Jonathan Ruffer to the town and he ended up buying the paintings and the castle, for what would become the regeneration charity The Auckland Project, which is now opening the last of its cultural attractions.

The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT

A recreation of Auckland Castle’s Long Dining Room and Zurbaran’s famous paintings

And when visitors walk through its doors, the first painting they will see is the original Benjamin, on loan to the gallery by The Grimsthorpe & Drummond Castle Trust, in the same town as its brothers for the first time since their separation at auction there. is almost 300 years old. .

Zurbaran is just one of the main 16th and 17th century artists whose work is in the new gallery.

El Greco, Murillo, Velázquez and lesser-known artists such as Maíno, Cerezo, Valdés Leal and Van der Hamen also appear in the ten spaces of the gallery – mainly from Mr. Ruffer’s private collection or acquired by the Zurbaran Trust for the gallery with some exceptional loans of pieces from private owners and prestigious institutions.

A portrait study of Camillo Astalli known as Cardinal Pamphili by Diego Velázquez, and Jonathan Ruffer, below, discussing La Perra de Graus, right

A portrait study of Camillo Astalli known as Cardinal Pamphili by Diego Velázquez, and Jonathan Ruffer, below, discussing La Perra de Graus, right

Camillo Astalli known as Cardinal Pamphili at the Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland, on loan from the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York

“If we made a list of the 150 best images in the world, some of them could be selected,” Mr. Ruffer said.

All of the gallery’s exhibits have stories to tell, including stories from Spain about politics, religion and loss that still resonate today.

The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT

Speaking of a painting of a dog, by Francisco Bayeu, Mr. Ruffer said: “I find this one very poignant.

“The royal pack was struggling with inbreeding and they found this dog to strengthen the lineage, then they started to worry about his pedigree and changed their mind.

“For me that sums up all the difficulties Spain has.”

Other Spanish artistic connections to the region include Rokeby Park, near Barnard Castle, which once housed Veláquez’s only surviving nude painting, the Rokery Venus, now in the National Gallery in London, and d he important collections are kept at the Bowes Museum. .

Along with the new gallery, a partnership with Durham University saw the creation of the Zurbarán Center for Spanish and Latin American Art and Culture to continue academic research in relation to the gallery’s collections.

Camillo Astalli known as Cardinal Pamphili at the Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT

Camillo Astalli known as Cardinal Pamphili at the Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT

Mr Ruffer added: “It has been a long journey, but my hope, which is the land of chimera, is that in ten years, anyone who wants to study the Spanish art of this period will come to Bishop Auckland to do so.

“There is an intense humanity and a deep feeling in the paintings of this period. When I see them, my whole being reacts.

“You see the fragility of life at every turn – man clinging to something eternal, to something that lasts. Yet everywhere you look, there is the ephemeral.

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