The Crucifixion, by 19th century painter Franz von Rohden – a leading light of art’s Nazarene school, was sent to Ushaw College, a Catholic seminary, in the 1850s by Pope Pius IX.
Depicting the Virgin Mary, St John and Mary Magdalene looking at Jesus on the cross, it is said to be worth tens of thousands of pounds.
It is part of a wider collection of Nazarene and pre-Raphaelite treasures which are only now being rediscovered in Ushaw’s archives, following the seminary’s closure in 2011 and talks beginning over the stunning buildings becoming a new Durham University college.
Linked to a research project titled Rome in the World, the 1854 Rohden work – the full title of which is the Crucifixion of Our Lord, with the Virgin Mary, Saint John and Mary Magdalene – will be the centrepiece of an exhibition at Durham’s World Heritage Site visitor centre running throughout February.
The Heritage in Focus exhibition has been organised by Dr Stefano Cracolici, from Durham University.
Pope Pius IX sent devotional artworks across the world as a way of marking the Catholic church’s territories and Ushaw College was among the first institutions in Britain to respond, as Catholic communities were only slowly beginning to regain their confidence following emancipation in the 1820s.
Rohden was born in Rome in 1817, the son of a German landscape painter.
The exhibition is the forerunner of another, much larger, show of Nazarene and pre-Raphaelite art planned for Durham in 2019.
Heritage in Focus will be at Durham’s World Heritage Site visitor centre, Owengate, Durham, from February 1 to 28. The centre is open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
Entrance is free.