Sunday, January 28, 2018

Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle

The exhibition, “Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle” is at The Frick Collection in New York from January 31 through April 22, 2018.  It consists of twelve single figure paintings lent by the Auckland Project / Zurbarán Trust, reunited with a thirteenth from the series lent by Lady Willoughby de Eresby of Grimsthorpe Castle.
The show was co-organized with the Meadows Museum in Dallas and the Auckland Castle in County Durham, England.  It was curated by Susan Grace Galassi, Senior Curator at The Frick Collection; Mark A. Roglán, Director of The Meadows Museum; and Amanda Dotseth, Meadows/Mellon/Prado Postdoctoral Fellow at The Meadows Museum.   It continues the Frick’s year of looking at the art of Spain

Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish,1598-1664) was sent from his small town to Seville to apprentice to  a little known artist and thought to be largely self taught. He established a prolific workshop in Seville and assisted his fellow Sevillian, Diego Velázquez on a Royal commission in Madrid. In the mid 1630’s was appointed painter to Philip IV.  It is said that Philip once declared  of Zurbarán, "Painter to the King, King of Painters". 

With a decline in Seville’s economy in the early 1640’s and then the plague of 1649, Zurbarán turned his attention to the Latin American market, supplying paintings on commission to churches, monasteries, and wealthy individuals while also selling workshop pieces on the open market in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lima, Peru. It is believed that the series of Jacob and his sons was intended for the New World as other examples of the subject are found in Peru and Mexico.

Jacob and his Twelve Sons, is a cycle of paintings all done between 1640 and 1645 representing the forebearers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They were purchased by Bishop Trevor, an advocate for the rights of Jews and Catholics in 1756 to hang in the Long Dining room at Auckland Castle where they pleaded his case for political, social and religious tolerance.  As each painting is close to 7 feet high by 3 plus feet wide they must have made quite a statement then as they do today.

Photo by Colin Davison

Each canvas tells a story from the book of Genesis.  For the Christians Jacob is seen as a prefiguration of Christ and his sons the antecedents of the twelve apostles.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

In Jacob’s blessing of each of his sons "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that it's rider tumbles backward. I look for your deliverance, O Lord" (Gen. 49:16-18).  In the illustration you can see Dan’s attribute of the serpent.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

The only painting from Grimsthorpe Castle is of Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin who was one of his father’s favorites.  Benjamin fathered the first King of Israel, Saul.  He holds a wolf foretelling that his tribe would become known for its ferocity in battle. This figure escaped the Bishop of Durham who was outbid on it at the auction where he acquired the rest of the series.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

Begun in the late 12th century and remodeled over time ,Auckland Castle was a symbol of power and authority as the primary residence and hunting lodge of the Prince Bishops of Durham. It was purchased from the Church of England by a philanthropic financier, Jonathan Ruffer, and transferred in July 2012 to the Auckland Castle Trust, a charitable foundation created to restore both the castle and grounds and also establish permanent exhibitions on the history of Christianity in Britain and the North East.

Photo Credit: Graeme Peacock

If you cannot get to the show the catalogue explores the historical, religious, and artistic perspectives on these paintings was co-edited by Susan Grace Galassi, Mark A, Roglán  and  Dr. Edward Payne, Senior Curator, Spanish Art, The Auckland Project, County Durham. There are also other entries by scholars of Spanish art.

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