Zurbaran paintings are returned to Auckland Castle in County Durham

A unique set of Zurbarán paintings have returned to Auckland Castle after being on loan in Europe as part of an exhibition celebrating Zurbarán's life

Zurbaran paintings are returned to Auckland Castle after being loaned out. Clare Baron and Andrew Ferrara put Asher back into place
Zurbaran paintings are returned to Auckland Castle after being loaned out. Clare Baron and Andrew Ferrara put Asher back into place

A unique set of paintings has been re-united in the North East after two went on loan.

The Zurbarán paintings of Jacob and his 12 sons hang in Auckland Castle, County Durham, having been bought by the then Bishop of Durham Richard Trevor in 1756.

For the last nine months, the paintings of Levi and Asher had been away from Auckland after being loaned to first the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy, and then the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium, as part of a major international exhibition celebrating Zurbarán’s life and his place as one of the greatest interpreters of Baroque art.

Two smaller reproductions of the paintings have instead hung in their place but now they have been returned to Auckland and hung again for visitors to the castle.

Dr Chris Ferguson, head curator at Auckland Castle, said: “It’s wonderful to have the boys back together again at their home here at Auckland Castle. There is no one star painting in the collection; it is a gathering of stars. But reuniting Levi and Asher with Jacob and their brothers does bring the group to life again.

“The Zurbaráns are not just national but international treasures and we are very fortunate to have them here in the North East.”

The epic religious artworks painted in the 1640s by the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán, show Jacob and his sons, who according to the Old Testament were to go on and found the 12 tribes of ancient Israel.

They have hung at the former home of the Bishops of Durham in a specially constructed gallery for nearly 260 years, and are among Europe’s most significant treasures of religious art.

The paintings’ future was put in doubt four years ago when the Church of England announced it was selling the castle and the artwork.

But North East-born businessman and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer donated £25m to buy both and has been turning the castle into a tourist attraction.

The castle is now open each day except Tuesday from 10.30am to 4pm.

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