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Francisco Pacheco (1564-1654), The Last Communion of Saint Peter Nolasco, 1611. Oil on canvas. The Bowes Museum.

COUNTY DURHAM.- The Last Communion of Saint Raymond Nonnatus forms the centrepiece of the show, Six Masterpieces, which includes significant loans from the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the National Gallery in London. The exhibition investigates the painting’s creator, Francisco Pacheco (1564-1654) and the Sevillian School of painting, exploring his role as the master of the second generation of painters in Seville during that period.

The painting is one of six executed by Pacheco for the Merced Calzada Convent in Seville, now the Museo de Bellas Artes. It is a work of great significance to the history of Spanish painting, an area in which The Bowes Museum excels; its collection boasts 76 works by Spanish artists, making it the finest venue in the UK to explore the genre after the National Gallery.

Pacheco was author of a critical treatise on the theories and practises of painting, Arte de la Pintura, which was fundamental to the development of Spanish Baroque painting. He was an important figure, both in the scope of his interests and teachings and as master and father-in-law of Diego Velázquez. The painting follows the techniques of his treatise, with chemical analysis proving that the ground colour came from silt from the Guadaquivir River which flows through Seville.

It was donated to The Bowes Museum in 1964 in memory of Tony Ellis, the Museum’s former Deputy Director, and now, following a lengthy period of restoration, it takes star billing in the exhibition which is on view until 1 February.

It was in storage from the 1960s to the 1990s, but in the early 70s a thick coat of varnish was applied to stabilise the paint; an accepted practice in those days,” said the Museum’s Conservation Manager, Jon Old.

Later, after consulting with other restorers, the Museum’s then paintings’ conservator felt the painting could be successfully restored and he set about cleaning it. Following his untimely death in 2004 various conservators, including Jon, continued the work, while a special relationship with the National Gallery saw it lined and cleaned there before the job of reconstructing the badly worn areas could be tackled back at the Museum.

David Everingham then took up the mantle, eventually going freelance to concentrate on the mammoth project in his Yorkshire studio.

Those who saw the painting in its previous state will certainly see a massive difference,” said Jon. “It will definitely take pride of place in the exhibition.”

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Jacob (from the series ‘Jacob and his Twelve Sons’) (1640–44), Francisco de Zurbarán © Auckland Castle

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The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin with Two Donors (probably 1661), Juan de Valdés Leal © The National Gallery, London