Saturday, January 06, 2007

Francisco de Zurbaran in music

The larger than life-sized portraits showing Jacob and his Twelve Sons dressed in Spanish peasant costumes should offer plenty of dramatic material for writers Duncan Brown and Greg Pullen, both from Spennymoor, and David Napthine, from Binchester, in County Durham.

Painted by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, they were sent to Mexico in the mid-17th Century to promote Catholicism among the native population at a time when it was widely believed that the Aztecs were one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Instead, they were hijacked at sea by English pirates and ended up in London in the hands of merchant James Mendez, a Portuguese Jew.

In 1756, he sold them for £125 to the high-living Bishop Richard Trevor, a vigorous campaigner for the recognition of Judaism's role in the Christian story.

One of the set was missing - Mendez sold Benjamin's portrait to the Duke of Ancaster, who believed himself to be a descendant. It now hangs in Grimethorpe Castle, near Peterborough.

Bishop Trevor had to be content with a copy - a fake by artist Arthur Proud, which was installed along with the rest in the castle's Long Dining Room.

The Bishop had his dramatic political statement to display to his dinner guests, but Zurbaran had been left with nothing.

Receiving no money for his stolen masterpieces, he died a ruined man in 1664.
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