Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.”
Thus commands the Biblical patriarch Jacob in Genesis 49.
Surrounded by his 12 sons, Jacob then foretells his prophecy for each of his progeny.
Unlike many Old Testament stories, these figures did not provide a clear antecedent to Christian iconography
and were therefore not especially popular subjects for large-scale European painting commissions.
However, as Spanish exploration of the New World flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries,
so did the notion of the Americas as a new paradise, and its native inhabitants were viewed as the lost tribes of Israel.
Working in cosmopolitan Seville and often for the New World market, the self-taught painter,
All My sons Francisco de Zurbarán, painted the series Jacob and His Twelve Sons, currently on view at the Meadows Museum.
The history of these paintings, on loan from Auckland Castle in County Durham, is as layered as the Bible itself. These works may have been a commission destined for the Americas.
“We do know that Zurbarán had at least two contracts with the Americas,” says Dr. Mark Roglán, the Linda P. and William A. Custard Director of the Meadows Museum.
Other suites of Jacob and his Twelve Sons can be found in Peru and Mexico, bearing similarities to Zurbarán’s work and could possibly be workshop copies.
All My sons By the mid-18th century, the suite of 13 paintings came up for auction in London.
In 1756, Richard Trevor, the Bishop of Durham, purchased 12 of them. He was outbid for the last painting, Benjamin, which remains in a private collection at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.
In his lifetime, Trevor commissioned British artist Arthur Pond to paint a copy of Benjamin.
For the exhibition, Zurbarán’s Benjamin will be reunited with the other works.
Pond’s version will be installed in a study gallery. In acquiring this work, Bishop Trevor spoke his conscience, and the acquisition had deep political implications.
Trevor was a staunch supporter of equal rights of Jews. He was instrumental in the passage of the Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753.
The bill was repealed a year later and two years before Trevor’s Zurbarán acquisitions.
According to Edward Payne, Senior Curator of Spanish Art at Auckland Castle, “Displayed in the Long Dining Room of the Bishop’s Palace,
where Trevor received visitors, the paintings transmitted a profound message of religious tolerance, representing a Jewish subject painted
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