The vision of securing County Durham’s place as an internationally renowned centre for Spanish art has moved a step closer with the news that three of the region’s leading heritage and educational bodies are to join forces with two of the world’s top galleries for a unique series of public exhibitions and lectures.
Auckland Castle, The Bowes Museum and Durham University will this autumn link-up with London’s National Gallery and Madrid’s Museo del Prado.
The pioneering move will see many of the world’s top experts in Spanish Golden Age art gather in County Durham in October for a major three-day conference to mark the bicentenary of the arrival of Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus in Teesdale.
This will coincide with important newly discovered and restored works of Golden Age Spanish art going on public display for the first time at The Bowes Museum and Auckland Castle alongside significant loans from the National Gallery and Museo del Prado.
Both the exhibitions and symposium are part of a wider, long-term aspiration shared by Durham University, The Bowes Museum and Auckland Castle and backed by the National Gallery and Museo del Prado, to establish County Durham as a key international academic and tourist destination focused around the area’s rich concentration of Spanish art.
The Bowes Museum, Durham University and Auckland Castle between them house the biggest pool of Golden Age Spanish art outside London.
The ambitious plan will give a much needed boost to the county’s economy as well as advance Durham’s cultural profile on the world stage and, in the words of Lord Jacob Rothschild, create “a small part of North East England which is part of Spain.”
It will also mark the beginning of a long and beneficial partnership between all the institutions.
Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “This joint venture between The Bowes Museum, Auckland Castle and Durham University marks the start of a special and important relationship, both for the venues involved and for County Durham.
“Whilst the symposium is the catalyst, the intention is that we will continue working closely together long term to establish something truly unique, which will result in the county proclaimed internationally as a hub for the examination and understanding of Spanish art.”
Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s head curator, added: “This conference, and the exhibitions at Auckland Castle and The Bowes Museum, are the beginning of our exciting project to make Spanish art accessible to the people of the North East and beyond.
“Bringing the foremost international scholars to County Durham will help us in our quest to research and understand some of the most exceptional collections of art in the United Kingdom.”
Durham University’s coordinator of Spanish art research, Dr Andy Beresford, said: “This important ongoing partnership with Auckland Castle and The Bowes Museum has provided members of Durham University’s Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures with an exciting and novel opportunity for interdisciplinary engagement, the development of a range of collaborative research synergies, and the potential to raise the profile of Spanish art in County Durham and of the cultural richness of the North East more broadly.
“We are very much looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship and to establishing an internationally renowned centre for the study of Spanish art in Britain.”
The Bowes Museum boasts 76 works’ by Spanish artists and to this day remains the best venue in the UK to explore the genre after the National Gallery.
Auckland Castle is home to the internationally important cycle of paintings, Jacob and his 12 Sons, by the 17th century Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán, which have hung in a specially built gallery at the former home of the Bishops of Durham for 250 years.
And Jonathan Ruffer, Chairman of the Auckland Castle Trust, has the honour of being the UK’s only International Patron of the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado (Friends of the Prado Museum Charity).
Ushaw College also owns many important works of Spanish art, as do Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral.
The Paintings of the Spanish Golden Age: The Collections of County Durham symposium to be held between October 23-25, will highlight these outstanding assemblages.
Among the esteemed speakers helping place the collections in their historical, artistic and cultural context will be Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of Curator and Research, at the Museo del Prado; Letizia Treves, Curator of Italian and Spanish Paintings 1600-1800, at the National Gallery, and celebrated art dealer Anthony Mould.
Four public lectures – two at Auckland Castle and two at The Bowes Museum – delivered by leading academics, will also be held between November and February, to broaden the symposium’s audience and enhance a wider understanding of Spanish art.
Running parallel to the main convention, which is expected to attract influential delegates and students of Spanish art to the lectures at Auckland Castle and The Bowes Museum, will be the two public exhibitions.
At Auckland Castle the Zurbarán’s will be shown alongside a cycle of 17th century Sevillian paintings of the Apostles brought to Durham Cathedral in 1753.
Also featured will be selected works of Spanish art from Ushaw College’s collection which will be on public display for the first time.
The Bowes Museum, meanwhile, will exhibit six pieces focusing on the artist Francisco Pacheco’s The Last Communion of Saint Raymond Nonnatus, which will be displayed alongside significant loaned works including Zurbarán’s The Martyrdom of Saint James and Juan van der Hamen y León’s Still Life with Artichokes, Flowers and Glass Vessels from the Museo del Prado.
Zurbarán’s Saint Francis in Meditation and Juan de Valdés Leal’s The Immaculate Conception with Two Donors from the National Gallery, will also feature.