Heritage in Focus: Franz von Rohden’s Crucifixion at Ushaw College
World Heritage Visitor Site Centre, 7 Owengate, Durham DH1 3HB
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. The exhibition is Strongly connected to the ‘Rome in the World Project’, led by Dr Cracolici and sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust. The project investigates the role of sacred art in today’s increasing secular society by charting the massive dissemination of devotional artworks from Rome to the world during the long pontificate of Pius IX (1846-78), the last Pope consciously exploiting the arts as powerful vehicles of his political and religious propaganda. The inclusion of the Ushaw artistic collection in the RIW project aims to promote a local heritage site by unravelling its global transnational dimension.
The Rohden’s exhibition illustrates the commitment of the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures (CVAC) to explore and engage with the heritage collection of Durham University and its partner institutions (‘Durham Hidden Heritage Initiative’). Furthermore, the devotional dimension of Rohden’s Crucifixion showcases a particular area of investigation that CVAC has elected among its research priorities – the interplay between religion and visual culture. Organised in collaboration with a veritable consortium of Durham institutions (IMEMS, IAS, CCS, C19S), the exhibition also exemplifies the kind of collaborative works it intends to foster at Durham, by offering students, colleagues and visitors alike a public forum to explore research questions in a thriving multidisciplinary environment.
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 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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