In this blogposting…
*Good News From Bishop Auckland
*What A Way To Go
*And Finally…
Proceed with caution…

A surreal headline if ever there was one.

But - as you probably already know - it’s true. The 13 Zurburan paintings which the Church Commissioners had threatened to sell, and which I lost my rag about in posting 252, have been saved.

This is truly wonderful news - and all the more so for being so totally unexpected. Remember, these are not just 13 paintings of international significance; they are also housed in what is, de facto, the world’s oldest purpose-built art gallery.

And suddenly Bishop Auckland Palace itself - a remarkable building which, up till now, has shut itself off from the world outside, grudgingly opening its doors only very rarely - seems to have a fighting chance of re-inventing itself as a much-needed arts and cultural centre for South Durham.

The online Telegraph article I read today deserves to be quoted..

Hedge fund manager Jonathan Ruffer has donated £15 million to save for the nation a series of paintings he has never seen.

Mr Ruffer bought 13 paintings of ‘Jacob and his Sons’ from the Church of England and immediately gave them back to the Church as a gift.

The 17th century masterpieces by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran were due to be auctioned by the Church Commissioners to raise money for the upkeep of Auckland Castle, the seat of the Bishop of Durham, where the paintings hang.

But after reading about the proposed sale, which could have resulted in the paintings going abroad or into a private collection, Mr Ruffer, 59, a devout Christian, decided to step in.

He had, he said, “shouted at” the Church when he heard about the plans to sell the paintings, then realised that: “I was the only person in a position to do anything about it. I happened to have £15 million. I wanted to do something for the north-east, where I come from. And I collect such paintings.

“My first thought had been a commercial one – that I could buy them for myself – but then I realised that there was something much more important to do.”

Asked what he thought of the pictures, he replied: “I’ve never seen them…it sounds funny, but I’m just very busy.”

Mr Ruffer, who was brought up in the North Yorkshire village of Stokesley, added: “People underestimate the symbolic power of art. Look at the Angel of the North… These paintings are quite monumental.”

Mr Ruffer also joked that buying the paintings had made his life much simpler by using up all of his spare money.

“The distraction of this job is being constantly fingered for money,” he said. “It’s just terrific to say that there isn’t any.”

With the help of a £1m donation from The Rothschild Foundation and advice from the National Trust, the Church intends to turn the Castle at Bishop Auckland into a regional heritage centre, with much greater public access.

Zurbaran, a contemporary of El Greco and Velázquez, completed 12 paintings of Jacob and his Sons between 1640 and 1645. They were bought by Bishop Richard Trevor in 1756 for £124. The 13th painting, of Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, is the work of the 18th century copyist Arthur Pond.

Each of the paintings stands 8ft tall and hangs in the Long Dining Room at the Castle, which has been the home of successive Bishops of Durham for more than 800 years and is open to the public during the summer.

More than 3,000 people had signed a petition demanding the sale of the paintings be stopped, and last week Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, urged the Commissioners to ensure the pictures could continue to be “enjoyed by the public”.

Dr Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and Acting Chair of the Commissioners, said: “Jonathan Ruffer’s generosity has made that rarest of scenarios possible: the best of both worlds.

“There is now an opportunity to create a leading arts and heritage centre in the north-east, and a chance to contribute to the wider spiritual, social and economic regeneration across the region.”

So three very loud cheers to Jonathan Ruffer.

And mustn’t it be awesome to be able to say ‘I happened to have £15 million pounds….’?

Kev has sent me a list of gruesome historic deaths. There’s 14 pages of them. All of these are from page 1.

(Beware: those of a nervous disposition should look away now.)

* In 430 BC: Empedocles, a Pre-Socratic philosopher, secretly jumped into an active volcano (Mt. Etna)
* In 207 BC: Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after watching his drunk donkey attempt to eat figs
* In 162 BC: Eleazar Maccabeus was crushed to death at the Battle of Beth-zechariah by a war elephant. Charging in to battle, Eleazar rushed underneath the elephant and thrust a spear into its belly, whereupon it fell dead on top of him.
* In 53 BC: The Roman general and consul Marcus Licinius Crassus was reported as having been put to death by the Parthians after losing the battle of Carrhae, by being forced to drink a goblet of molten gold, symbolic of his great wealth.
* In 4 BC: Herod the Great reportedly suffered from fever, intense rashes, colon pains, foot drop, inflammation of the abdomen, a putrefaction of his genitals that produced worms, convulsions, and difficulty breathing before he finally gave up.
* And in 260: Roman emperor Valerian, after being defeated in battle and captured by the Persians, was supposedly used as a footstool by King Shapur I. After a long period of punishment and humiliation, Shapur is said to have had the emperor skinned alive and his skin stuffed with straw or dung and preserved as a trophy.

...will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 27 April at Birkheads Nursery near the Tanfield Railway.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all - naturally.

...echoing Hildie’s good wishes in the Comments box of posting 265…a VERY happy 57th Wedding Anniversary to Eric and Jean, who run The Commercial in Tantobie.

Many years ago, when I owned my own micro-brewery in Crook, they were regular customers of mine and we’ve been in touch almost ever since. This blog would be a mere shadow of itself without the many contributions Eric and Jean have made - including the wonderful caricatures above.

Recognise them?

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Sid said...

It's just a thought, but...
A hedge fund manager with a spare £15 million.
What was the first thing that crossed your mind?

Ian Robinson said...

Me too, Sid - i just didn't want to be TOO unkind!

Sid said...

It would appear that Mr Ruffer, 59 years of age, is a financial wizard who made a lot of money when he predicted the credit crunch.
He is quoted as saying 'his own income is hard to fathom, I earn in a week just about the annual median wage. I don't see this as a disgrace. I see it as an absurdity. The disgrace comes when you see it as your own.
Bankers, he says, "shouldn't feel guilty or stash it away. They should just recycle it.
What a lovely man Mr Ruffer is.

Leroy La Strange said...

Hi Guys....and Gals of course...

I'm back in town after a long time away.... Havn't been around for a while and a half due to a little set back in the heart dept.. plus work commitments...
But thats water under the bridge now so you'll see me a lot more now.....


Leroy La Strange said...

Oh ps.

No offence to Eric n jean but I pass the Commercial virtually every day and I can't help laughing at the sign..... I think it says Com-er--il now.... It reminds me a little of the Fawlty towers sign......


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