The Spanish Gallery at Bishop Auckland

Led by Jonathan Ruffer, the Auckland Project is working to regenerate large sections of the town of Bishop Auckland, which for hundreds of years was the seat of the powerful bishopric of Durham.

The project has Spanish art at its core: Ruffer first conceived of his plan to buy Castle Auckland and other properties in the town when a series of works by Francisco de Zurbarán (twelve of the thirteen paintings making up the series Jacob and his Twelve Sons), which had been in the castle since 1756, were put up for sale and threatened with removal from Bishop Auckland.

Part of the redevelopment is the new Spanish Gallery, the first museum in the UK to be devoted to Spanish art. Ruffer commissioned Factum Foundation and Skene Catling de la Peña to rethink the concept and role of a museum for the top floor. The result, ‘In the Blink of an Eye, Transience and Eternity in the Spanish Golden Age’, is a space filled with great objects, all with their own specific history, biography and meaning in their original location, but with the potential to unlock a profound understanding of Spanish art when put together in dialogue with each other.

The original pieces were all chosen, digitally recorded using non-contact technologies and re-embodied as physical facsimiles for installation in Bishop Auckland to reveal some of the defining characteristics of this period of Spanish art and its context. A New World vellum map, paintings – portraits, biblical scenes, two vanitas and a baptism – sit alongside Renaissance wall tiles, carved architectural plasterwork or yesería, elaborate, geometric-patterned timber ceilings, sculptures, a tabernacle and a tomb. All have been made in Madrid over three years of delicate negotiations with major cultural institutions in Spain and intense digital and physical work. The outcome is a portal into Spanish Renaissance and early Baroque thinking and a collection of mutually beneficial collaborations that redefine sharing, connoisseurship and preservation.

One of the aims is to create a new narrative through juxtaposition by which objects can be seen as if for the first time. Great art grants the power to see through the eyes and perceptions of others. ‘In Ictu Oculi – In the Blink of an Eye’ celebrates a uniquely Iberian view of the world, and the ability of art to compress and transcend time and place.

The Spanish Gallery opened to the public on October 15, 2021. Click here to watch the walk through the second floor with Adam Lowe and Charlotte Skene Catling, as part of the series of seminars organised by the Zurbarán Centre at Durham University and the ARTES Iberian and Latin American Visual Culture Group in association with the Embassy of Spain and the Instituto Cervantes.

This approach to sharing and accessing works of art has been developed by The Auckland Project and Factum Foundation. The recording and the production of facsimiles was only possible as a result of the generosity and vision of the following institutions whose responsibility is to look after and communicate the objects in their care: Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli, Casa de Pilatos (Seville), Hospital de San Juan Bautista or Hospital de Tavera (Toledo), Hermandad de la Santa Caridad, Hospital de la Caridad (Seville), Ministerio de Defensa de España, Museo Naval de Madrid, Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica (CEEH), Casa de Mesa (Toledo), Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte de España, Museo Sefardí – Sinagoga del Tránsito (Toledo), Museo Nacional de Escultura (Valladolid), Museo del Traje (Madrid), Ayuntamiento de Seville, Real Alcázar (Seville), Hermanas Clarisas Franciscanas, Convento Santa Clara la Real (Toledo), Junta de Andalucía-Consejería de Cultura y Patrimonio Histórico, Filmoteca de Andalucía (Cordoba).