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Zurbarán: Jacob and His Twelve Sons, Paintings from Auckland Castle

Zurbarán CatalogueMeadows Museum, SMU, Dallas

17 September 2017 - 7 January 2018

Frick Collection, New York City

31 January - 22 April 2018

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

25 May 2018 - 02 October 2018

The crown jewel in Auckland Castle's collection, Francisco de Zurbarán's impressive series of paintings, has gone on display in Dallas, New York and Jerusalem for the first time in 2017-18. The exhibition catalogue, edited by Susan Galassi, Edward Payne and Mark A. Roglán, has been underwritten by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica and the Center for Spain in America.

A biblical text inspired Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) to create in the 1640s one of his most important and monumental series: Jacob and His Twelve Sons.Zurbarán (1598 - 1664), one of the masters of Spain's Golden Age, was then at the peak of his career and extremely busy with important commissions, many of which resulted in the life-size portraits of saints, monks, and martyrs for which he is best known. These requests arrived to his studio not only from Spain but also from Peru, Mexico, and Buenos Aires. A devout Christian, Zurbarán started working on Jacob and His Twelve Sons in 1640, and it took him five years to complete this ambitious project.

Each one of Jacob's sons - the founders of ancient Israel's Twelve Tribes - is depicted with his personal attributes based on Jacob's blessings in the book of Genesis (49:1-27), inviting us to contemplate the meaning of their intriguing differences. Beyond their poetic beauty, the biblical verses reveal the old man's innermost thoughts and feelings about his children: which were his favourites, which he could not trust, and which he saw as a menace to themselves and to others. Zurbarán depicted them dressed in various modes and fashions, indicating their social status. Thus, Judah is portrayed as a king, Zebulun as a fisherman, Naphtali as a farmer, Levi as a priest, and Gad and Simeon as a violent thug and fierce warrior respectively. The simplest weaves are juxtaposed with sumptuous fabrics that, in all probability, were brought to the painter's studio by travellers returning from faraway Mexico and Peru.

There are reasons to believe that Zurbarán's series was indeed intended for the Americas, before making its permanent home at Auckland Castle in northern England. Be that as it may, in the fall of 2017, on the occasion of renovations at the Castle, the thirteen Patriarchs crossed the Atlantic to be displayed at the Meadows Museum in Dallas and subsequently at The Frick Collection in New York, prior to reaching Jerusalem just in time to celebrate modern Israel's 70th Anniversary.

If the series itself is extraordinary because of its quality and rarity, its provenance is also of great interest. Although it is believed that these works were destined for the Americas, there is evidence that they were in England in the eighteenth century. They have been housed at Auckland Castle since 1756, the year they were purchased at auction in London by Richard Trevor, the fifty-fourth Bishop of Durham. Trevor ran out of funds before being able to purchase Benjamin, so he had a copy made by British artist Arthur Pond (1705-1798) in order to have the entire group represented at his residence. The original Benjamin has remained in a private collection ever since, but it will join its “brothers” in a historic reunion for this exhibition.

This exhibition marked the first time these precious holdings were presented in America and Israel, and only the second time in history that they left Auckland Castle. It was a unique opportunity to admire a rare assemblage of Zurbarán's oeuvre. A major study of the series is being undertaken that will include a meticulous technical analysis of all the paintings as well as the publication of a catalogue with essays by a number of specialists. See the catalogue.

This exhibition has been co-organised by the Meadows Museum, SMU; The Frick Collection; and Auckland Castle; in association with the Kimbell Art Museum. A generous gift from The Meadows Foundation has helped make this exhibition and technical study possible. The exhibition catalogue has been underwritten by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica and the Center for Spain in America.