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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Church to sell art treasures
Levi by Zuberán
Levi, one of Jacob's sons, as painted by Zuberán
The commissioners of the Church of England have agreed in principle to sell a valuable collection of paintings to raise funds.

The collection, currently kept at the home of the Bishop of Durham, is reputed to be worth up to £20m.

They are works in the series Jacob And His Twelve Sons by the 17th Century Spanish painter Francesco de Zurbarán, a contemporary of Velasquez and El Greco.

Lord Bishop of Durham
The Rt Rev Turnbull campaigned to keep the paintings
The collection was originally bought for £145 by the Rt Reverend Richard Trevor, who was Bishop of Durham from 1752 to 1771.

The commissioners say the sale will raise much-needed funds, particularly for the north east.

"This fund supports the Church's ministry, especially in areas of need and opportunity," they said in a statement.


"The north east is one of the areas receiving help from it and so will benefit directly from the sale."

But it is feared that once sold the paintings, which currently go on public display for about 80 days of the year, will disappear from view forever.

The current bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Michael Turnbull, wants the collection to remain in the north east of England.

"There's a tremendous amount of awareness of them in the local area - there is a feeling that they should be kept here, that this is their real home," he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

The commissioners claim that the cost of insuring and protecting the paintings at the Bishop's home is becoming prohibitive.

The Bishop of Hulme the Rt Reverend Stephen Lowe said people should not be sentimental about them.

"They're costing around £50,000 a year to insure and keep secure in Auckland Castle," he told the Today Programme.


"We do take seriously the emotions of the people of the people of Durham."

He said it was an "accident" that they were bought for so little in 1756.

The works are exhibited in a display room at Auckland Castle.

The Bishop of Hulme argued that visitor numbers did not justify the painting's present home. He hoped a gallery would buy them.

The Prado Museum in Madrid is said to have already expressed interest in the Zurbaráns.

The artist Francisco de Zurbarán was born in Extremadura in 1598 but settled in Seville in 1629, where he had a successful career accepting large religious commissions.

His series Jacob and his Twelve Sons, painted around 1640, was originally destined for the a client in Spanish America.

The Right Rev Turnball, Bishop of Durham
"There's a tremendous amount of awareness"
The Right Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme
"They're costing around £50,000 a year"
See also:

27 Jul 01 | Arts
Art treasures to stay in UK
25 Jul 01 | Arts
$40m art sale for charity
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