Conservative Evangelical Megamillionaire Saves Zurburan Paintings for Church of England

Conservative Evangelical Megamillionaire Saves Zurburan Paintings for Church of England
In the wake of crippling cuts to arts funding in the United Kingdom, many institutions are praying for some kind of angelic savior the pad their empty coffers. One such crusader has emerged in the form of Jonathan Ruffer, the U.K. private fund manager who last week gave £15 million ($24.2 million) to the Church of England, the Spectator reports. Ruffer offered up the money so that the Church might keep a dozen 17th-century paintings of Jacob and his sons by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán — plus one work by 18th-century copyist Arthur Pond of Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin — at Auckland Castle in north-east England.

The Church had planned to auction off the suite of 8-foot-tall paintings to raise funds to maintain its 800-year-old castle — the historic seat of the Bishop of Durham, where the works have resided since 1756. When the proposed sale drew public outcry, in swooped the pious 59-year-old philanthropist, who according to the Telegraph is worth £100 million. First Ruffer "shouted at" the Church not to sell, then, according to the Spectator, the conservative evangelical megamillionaire, "realized that there was something more important to do."


Ruffer, who boasts a personal collection of devoutly themed art including a Gainsborough copy of a Zurburán saint, contemplated buying the paintings for himself before he decided to pay for them to remain in the Church's hands — all without ever having laid eyes on the works. (He is, in his own words "very busy.")


"For the rich, saving is much more dangerous than spending," Ruffer told the Spectator, "What a lot of money does is poison you. It's like the digestive system. It's meant to flow through you, not to stop flowing." When asked just how much money was flowing through his system the investor said: "I earn in a week just about the annual median wage. I don't see this as a disgrace. I see it as an absurdity. The disgrace comes when you see it as your own."


Thanks to Ruffer's donation and an additional £1 million gift from the Rothschild Foundation, Auckland Castle, previously open only for limited hours over the summer, will be turned into a year-round publicly accessible heritage center, in whose Long Dining Room visitors can bask in the glory of the Zurbaráns.