Joseph, Naphtali, Asher, Dan, Levi and Reuben, have hung alongside their father Jacob and six other brothers in Auckland Castle’s Long Dining Room for 260 years.

But now the life-size portraits created by the Spanish Golden Age master Francisco de Zurbarán in the 1640s, are taking an 18 month break to the United States – the first time they have been shown outside Europe.

Their 5,000 mile journey stateside, where the paintings will be exhibited at both The Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas, and The Frick Collection in New York, marks the start of the multi-million pound restoration of Auckland Castle and the many significant works it houses.

While in the United States the centuries old paintings will be the focus of an in-depth technical and art historical study supported by The Meadows Foundation and The Frick Collection, which will take place at the renowned Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Infrared reflectography, ultra-violet light, X-radiography, and pigment analysis, will all be used to unlock the hidden history of the monumental works’ artistic creation – the first time such forensic techniques will have been used on this particular series by Zurbarán.

The research findings will then be made publicly available at the United States exhibitions, as well as Auckland Castle from May 2018, when Jacob and his 12 Sons will once again hang together at the former palace of England’s only Prince Bishops.

Clare Baron, Auckland Castle’s Temporary Exhibitions Curator, said the extraordinary religious works bought and financed by Bishop Richard Trevor in 1756, and which have never crossed the Atlantic before, would hopefully be a “treasure trove” of artistic and historical information.

“The start of the extensive works at the Castle has presented us with a golden opportunity to investigate these masterworks in minute detail, and hopefully shed new light on what today comprises one of the most significant public collections of Francisco de Zurbarán’s work outside Spain.

“Thorough scientific analysis will make it possible to uncover such elements as under drawing, changes to the composition, and the materials used. We hope this thorough examination will give us insights into Zurbarán’s creative process and artistic intentions, and that we will gain a greater understanding of these impressive works.

“Jacob and his 12 sons are a wonderful legacy and represent the pinnacle of Spanish painting in the century known as the ‘Golden Age.’ More than three centuries after they were created they are not just national but international treasures, and we are very fortunate to have them here in the North East.

“Whilst we are sad to see Joseph, Naphtali, Asher, Dan, Levi and Reuben leave, their departure represents not only the start of a bright new future for Auckland Castle, but a unique opportunity for these master works to be studied.”

Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s Curatorial Director, added: “We are thrilled to be working with major North American partners such as The Meadows Museum and Foundation, and The Frick Collection. Through their kind support, this collaborative project will allow us to learn much more about these Spanish artistic gems, and will showcase them to a new audience in the United States.

“This partnership marks one of the first steps in County Durham truly becoming the home of Spanish Art in the United Kingdom. International collaboration is fundamental to our ambitions as a new venue for the appreciation, research, and understanding, of the art and culture of the Hispanic world.

“We hope that these focused exhibitions of the art from County Durham will attract transatlantic visitors to Bishop Auckland over the coming years.”

The research and its publication, as well as the United States exhibitions, has been funded by The Meadows Foundation, with the technical study being supervised by Claire Barry, Director of Conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum.

Clare Baron said the research would ultimately enable the Zurbarán’s full story to be told when Auckland Castle reopens to the public in 2018.

Life size reproductions of the six paintings will hang in the Long Dining Room alongside the remaining works of Jacob, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Benjamin, and Gad, until the end of September when the Castle will close to allow the restoration work to begin in earnest.

The remaining seven portraits will themselves then be removed and head to the United States in October – only the third time the whole series has left the Castle since 1756.

In 1801-2 the pictures were taken down, cleaned, lined, and some of them re-framed, as part of a redecoration and refurnishing of the Long Dining Room, and in 1995 they were exhibited at The Prado Museum in Madrid, and The National Gallery in London.

In 2013 Levi and Asher were loaned to the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy, and 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 masters of the Spanish Golden Age.

USA Exhibition Dates:

 

The Meadows Museum, Dallas: 17 September, 2017-7 January, 2018

 

The Frick Collection, New York: 31 January – 22 April, 2018