Experts in the art of the Spanish Golden Age are gathering in County Durham as three of its institutions forge special links with two of the world’s greatest galleries.
Auckland Castle, the Bowes Museum and Durham University are linking up with the National Gallery in London and the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
A three-day conference marks the bicentenary of the arrival of the Rokeby Venus, by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, in Teesdale.
The famous painting, now in the National Gallery, was housed at Rokeby Hall from 1805 to 1905.
The conference also coincides with newly restored works of art from the Spanish Golden Age (late 15th Century to mid 17th) going on display in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, and Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, alongside major loans from the National Gallery and the Prado.
Bowes director Adrian Jenkins said “This joint venture between the Bowes 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 the partnership with Auckland Castle and the Bowes had provided members of the university’s Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures with an exciting opportunity to collaborate.
There was the potential, he added, to raise the profile of Spanish art in County Durham and of the cultural richness of the North East more broadly.
The Bowes Museum boasts 76 works by Spanish artists, Auckland Castle is home to the famous paintings representing Jacob and his 12 sons by the 17th Century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán and there are other important Spanish artworks at Ushaw College, Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle.
Jonathan Ruffer, chairman of the Auckland Castle Trust, is the UK’s only international patron of the Friends of the Prado Museum charity.
Public exhibitions coinciding with the three-day conference can be seen at Auckland Castle and the Bowes Museum while four public lectures by leading experts, two at each venue, will be held between November and February.