Zurbarans At Auckland Castle

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventIllustrated Talk
WhenMonday 18th June at 7.30 pmTutorDr Robert McManners

Dr McManners, as Chair of the Bishop Auckland Civic Society and the leading force in the project to retain the Zurbaran paintings in Bishop Auckland, was an eminently suitable person to talk on this topic. He began by explaining how after ‘Harrowing of the North’, William  used Northumbria as a buffer zone between Scotland and England conferring upon the Bishop the power amongst other things to legislate, raise taxes, appoint judiciary and even convene his own parliament. Thus Bishopric of Durham became a principality with the Prince Bishops having the same power and authority as the king. 

Zurbaran was a popular religious painter in 17th century Spain. At this time in Spain, though there was a large portion of the population that were Jewish or Muslim, the Catholic traditions were being re-exerted and many lived in fear of the Spanish Inquisition. So why did Zurbaran risk not only his reputation but also his life to paint Jacob and his twelve sons from the Old Testament?

Dr McManners discussed some reasons, such as they were painted speculatively for export then captured by pirates, however a more substantive theory is that they were painted for a Jewish client to hang secretly in his home, maybe in a wine cellar. Zurbaran himself probably had sympathy with the Jewish people having grown up in a small town which had a substantial Jewish population.

The paintings eventually arrived in England and were bought in 1756 by Richard Trevor, the Bishop of Durham. He altered the Dining Room at Auckland Palace to accommodate the pictures where they still hang today, thanks to the generosity of Jonathan Ruffer who bought them when the Church Commissioners had sent them for auction to Sotheby’s. 

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