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Zurbaráns to help lure scholarship

07 October 2016


In situ: the Zurbáran paintings at Auckland Castle

In situ: the Zurbáran paintings at Auckland Castle

THE creation of a new international study centre for students of art history, connected with Auckland Castle, the former residence of the Bishops of Durham, has been announced. The opening is planned for next year.

Auckland Castle has been chosen because it houses the famous cycle of paintings Jacob and his Twelve Sons, by the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán. They hang in the Long Dining Room. Representing the 12 tribes of Israel, they were bought by Bishop Trevor in 1756. They are the core of what is considered to be the largest collection of Spanish art in the UK outside London.

Durham University and the Auckland Castle Trust are setting up the Zurbarán Centre, for the study of Spanish and Latin American art, to be “a world-class beacon of excellence”.

The Santander Group is making a two-year grant of £600,000 to the project, and Durham University will contribute a further £1 million over the next five years. The project forms part of a wider £70-million investment by the Trust, designed to stimulate economic regeneration in Bishop Auckland by creating an “art, faith, and heritage destination of international significance”.

At a private event at the castle last week, a formal partnership agreement was signed by the Vice-Chancellor of Durham, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and the Trust’s chairman, Jonathan Ruffer, the Anglican investment manager and philanthropist who bought the castle from the Church Commissioners in 2012.

Professor Corbridge and Ana Botín, the executive chair of the Santander Group, also signed a gift agreement that represents the largest single donation made by the bank to a UK university.

The agreement builds on Santander’s existing partnership with the University, and the bank’s donation towards creating the Santander Lord Burns Library at the Spanish Gallery, which, it is hoped, will open in the Market Place, Bishop Auckland, in 2019.

It is intended that the new partnership will attract tourists and visiting scholars from around the world, and boost employment and business in the area. A recent report by Ernst & Young suggested that this project, with others in the town, could attract more than 430,000 visitors per year by 2020, and bring up to £20 million into the economy, the press announcement says.

Ryanair has recently announced the introduction of direct flights between Newcastle and Madrid from March 2017.

The new centre will undertake research and host conferences and workshops, and offer postgraduates the opportunity to study while working alongside the castle’s curatorial staff.

The Spanish Gallery, which will explore Spanish art from the medieval period to the present, focusing particularly on the 17th century, is expected to complement this, and help to raise the profile and understanding of Spanish art. The University will begin an international search to recruit the centre’s director this autumn.

Professor Corbridge said in his statement that the centre would also be “a way of connecting the wider public with our research expertise, and is a commitment to the cultural regeneration of Bishop Auckland”.

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