Francisco Zurbaran paintings saved by £15m donation

Zurbaran paintings The works by Zurbaran have been at Auckland Castle for 250 years

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Plans to sell off 17th Century paintings which hang in the home of the Bishop of Durham have been shelved after a £15m donation.

Church Commissioners said selling works by Spanish Baroque artist Francisco Zurbaran would have funded Church efforts in poorer areas.

But the donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer means the paintings can stay in Auckland Castle.

Commissioners also want the castle to become a major tourist attraction.

The paintings, which depict Jacob and his sons, have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for 250 years.

In a statement, the Church Commissioners said: "It is intended that Auckland Castle shall become a leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East.

"The proposals have been made possible thanks to a £15m donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer.

"Discussions are now continuing with Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, the Art Fund and the National Gallery about the broader future for Auckland Castle."

'Rarest of scenarios'

Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, said: "It is excellent news that the Zurbarans remain in their historic home and that the castle will be more accessible to the public.

"We hope to be able to support this exciting venture in the future with loans from the National Collection."

Dr Richard Chartres, acting chair of the commissioners, said: "Jonathan Ruffer's generosity has made that rarest of scenarios possible.

"There is now an opportunity to create a leading arts and heritage centre in the North East."

Mr Ruffer's contribution was made through a new charitable trust called the Zurbaran Trust.

The Marlborough and Cambridge-educated financial expert will continue to chair his firm, but plans to spend more time in the North East helping people.

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