Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
Heritage in Focus: Franz von Rohden’s Crucifixion at Ushaw College
Opening Hours: 9:30-16:30 (every day) – Free Admission
This exhibition focuses on a rare and largely neglected masterpiece by the Nazarene artist Franz von Rohden (1817-1903) currently preserved at Ushaw College. The painting, which depicts the Crucifixion of Our Lord with the Virgin Mary, St John and Mary Magdalene (1854), exemplifies the artistic creed of the Nazarene school of painting, founded in Rome by a group of dissident German artists in the early nineteenth century and characterised by the radical recourse to the pictorial repertoire of Italian pre-modern masters. While still relatively unknown in England today, the Nazarene movement exerted a tremendous influence on European Romanticism, the Gothic Revival and the British Pre-Raphaelites. The exhibition is organized by Dr Stefano Cracolici (MLaC) under the aegis of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Centre of Visual Arts and Cultures, the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Centre for Catholic Studies.
Ushaw College presently preserves the largest and most revealing collection of Nazarene art in the country, and, in particular, the largest collection of Rohden’s paintings in the world. His Crucifixion has never left Ushaw College and is here exhibited to the wider public for the first time. While still in progress in Rohden’s Roman atelier, this exquisite painting had already become a sensation. Its first admirers called it ‘a miracle of art and a most devotion-inspiring picture’ and elected it as ‘the finest picture of the subject that ever was painted’. This explains why Ushaw, the historically most prestigious Roman Catholic college in the country, chose precisely Nazarene art to adorn its premises with artworks charged with a particular devotional energy.
The ‘heritage in focus’ formula, here introduced for the first time, is designed to provide Durham’s students, colleagues and visitors alike with a detailed presentation of one heritage item, taken from the collections of Durham University or its partner institutions, and related to a research currently in progress. In this case, Rohden’s Crucifixion illustrates a case study linked to the ‘Rome in the World’ project, led by Dr Cracolici and Dr Giovanna Capitelli (University of Calabria), and sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust, which investigates the role of sacred art in today’s increasing secular society by charting the global dissemination of devotional artworks from Rome to the world during the long pontificate of Pius IX (1846-78), the last pope exerting temporal and spiritual powers over his dominions.
Contemporary art critics praised Rohden’s art for his special use of light and colours. During the time of the exhibition, the World Heritage Visitor Site Centre will transform itself into a laboratory – Dr Cracolici and Prof Beeby (Chemistry) will conduct a pilot spectrographic analysis of the painting’s colours, through a non-invasive technique already adopted to study the ink of Durham Cathedral’s manuscripts. This would allow the Durham team to verify whether Rohden employed pigments commonly used in the pre-modern period. If confirmed, this would suggest that not only Rohden was inspired by pre-modern models stylistically, but that he also tried to revive the pictorial techniques of the great old masters, opening new and exciting vistas on current Nazarene research.
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