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Faith and Love: Picturing the Bible From Raphael To El Greco at the Bowes Museum

COUNTY DURHAM.- A prestigious exhibition exploring many of the most popular Bible stories visualized by Western artists and craftsmen opened at The Bowes Museum.

Faith and Love: Picturing the Bible from Raphael to El Greco includes important paintings and artefacts from the Museum’s world class collection of European art as well as loans from national collections.

The exhibition looks at some of the most popular depictions of Old and New Testament stories including Moses in the Bulrushes, David and Goliath, the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt.

Two intriguing works by Raphael are displayed side by side, allowing a rare glimpse of the techniques employed in Renaissance painting. The Madonna and Child, also known as the ‘Mackintosh Madonna’ after its last owner Miss Eva Mackintosh, who donated it to The National Gallery, is shown alongside the cartoon (preliminary drawing) version, The Virgin and Child, courtesy of The British Museum.

“Although it might not be considered by purists to be one of Raphael’s greatest paintings it is really important as in this instance we have the original cartoon, which is in very good condition,” said Emma House, the Museum’s Assistant Keeper of Fine Art. “The cartoon would be pricked with holes and then a fine layer of charcoal would be dabbed over the outline to reproduce the design ready to paint. The pinholes on the cartoon are still clearly visible.”

Also on show for the first time since they were purchased by The Bowes Museum’s founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, in the 19th Century is part of a set of engravings. They were produced by Nicolas Chaperon in 1649 and illustrate Raphael’s frescos for the Loggia of the Vatican, known as Raphael’s Bible.

Through Chaperon’s beautifully printed images visitors are introduced to the story of the creation of the world, the temptation of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark. They are among the finest copies of Raphael’s work in the Loggia and were conserved especially for the exhibition.

Featured too is the work of Francesco Giovanni Penni, one of Raphael’s studio assistants, who worked with him on the Loggia and whose drawings were probably produced in preparation for the project.

Textiles and a variety of artefacts from the Museum’s collections complement the works of art, each depicting a Biblical theme. These include a wooden Noah’s Ark with a set of animals and a children’s 3D puzzle revealing different stories on each side of its building blocks. A beautiful canvas work table carpet, c1600, made specifically for decoration, portrays Biblical images from the Book of Genesis, including the story of Adam and Eve & Cain and Abel.

During 2008 the Museum’s conservator, Jon Old, is overseeing the conservation of The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and the Infant Saint John the Baptist, a copy after La Perla by Raphael which is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The technical analysis from the former, together with the loans from The National Gallery and The British Museum introduce visitors to the working processes and techniques of Raphael and his studio.

One of The Bowes Museum’s most famous paintings, The Tears of St Peter by El Greco, c1580, is displayed in the exhibition. Reluctantly purchased by the founders in 1869 it cost them less than they paid for a monkey puzzle tree which graces the Museum grounds!

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