It is intended that Auckland Castle shall become a leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East, under new plans revealed today by the Church Commissioners. The Commissioners’ proposals have been made possible thanks to a £15m donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer, and discussions are now continuing with Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, the Art Fund and the National Gallery about the broader future for Auckland Castle.
Jonathan Ruffer’s contribution, made through a new charitable trust for the benefit of the people of the North East of England (the Zurbarán Trust) will ensure that the 17th century portraits of Jacob and his sons by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán can remain at Auckland Castle, their historic home since 1756. The Zurbarán Trust will provide, through the pictures, a symbolic statement of Christian hope through broken-ness and a practical help and encouragement to the people of the North East, from its base at Auckland Castle. The Commissioners will in turn be able to provide much needed additional funding for the Church’s work in communities throughout the country including the North East.
In addition, early conversations are taking place involving the National Trust and Durham County Council about opening up the historic castle – home of the Bishops of Durham for the past 800 years – and its grounds to provide much greater public access. To make this a reality, further funds will need to be raised. The Rothschild Foundation under the guidance of Lord Rothschild, a long term supporter of British heritage, has already committed to a donation of up to £1 million towards this and discussions are continuing with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and DCMS.
Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, says: “It is excellent news that the Zurbaráns remain in their historic home and that the Castle will be more accessible to the public. We hope to be able to support this exciting venture in the future with loans from the National Collection.”
Dr Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and Acting Chair of the Commissioners, said: “Jonathan Ruffer’s generosity has made that rarest of scenarios possible: the best of both worlds. There is now an opportunity to create a leading arts and heritage centre in the North East, and a chance for both the Church of England and the Zurbarán Trust to contribute to the wider spiritual, social and economic regeneration across the region.”
Councillor Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “In recent months we have been in discussion with the Commissioners and the National Trust to consider a future for Auckland Castle which will put this fabulous asset at the heart of regeneration proposals for the county.
“I believe we now have a once in a lifetime chance to secure a future for the Zurbaráns at Auckland Castle and ensure both can be enjoyed by a wider public audience. Over the coming weeks we will continue to offer our full support to this exciting venture which, I have every hope, will deliver County Durham some wonderful opportunities in the future.”
History of the Zurbaran Paintings
The thirteen Zurbarán Paintings hang in the Long Dining Room, each painting standing eight feet tall. They are the work of a contemporary of Valázques and El Greco, Spanish artist, Francisco de Zurburán.
Painted between 1640 and 1645, they are of patriarchs, Jacob and his twelve sons. The twelfth son, ‘Benjamin’, is not in fact the work of de Zurburán, but of Arthur Pond, an artist, copyist and art critic of the 18th century.
It was Bishop Trevor who in 1756 acquired this now priceless collection for £124, after a history which probably took them to South America before coming to England.
Partnership preserves paintings for public
County Durham residents look set to benefit from an exciting partnership behind plans to preserve the heritage and culture of one of the county’s most iconic buildings and the popular collection of paintings within it.
Today The Church Commissioners announced that, in partnership with Durham County Council and The National Trust, they are working towards a new future for Auckland Castle – home to the historic Zurbaran paintings. The National Gallery has also indicated it is keen to support this initiative.
Welcoming the Commissioners’ public statement council leader Cllr Simon Henig said: “In recent months we have been in discussion with the Commissioners and the National Trust to consider a future for Auckland Castle which would put this fabulous asset at the heart of regeneration proposals for the county.
“I believe we now have a once in a lifetime chance to secure a future for the Zurbarans at Auckland Castle and ensure both can be enjoyed by a wider public audience.
“Over the coming weeks we will continue to offer our full support to this exciting venture which, I have every hope, will deliver County Durham some wonderful opportunities in the future.”
Durham County Council chief executive George Garlick said: “There are many details to work through but I very much hope that we have laid the foundations for a strong and lasting partnership which would be of significant benefit to both County Durham and the wider area.
“Increasing tourism is a major objective for the council and I really hope that this partnership can help us preserve two central parts of our heritage and culture, while hugely enriching our offer on a world stage.”
The council is currently leading on two important pieces of work involving Auckland Castle which would assist with turning the vision for this stunning building into reality on the ground.
The first is a ‘Statement of Significance,’ which will establish what is special about the castle; it’s importance as an historic and cultural centre.
The second is an ‘options study’ of the castle and its grounds. This is being undertaken to establish the possibilities these assets may offer in the future.
Both are to be completed before the summer.