LONDON (Reuters) - A series of portraits by 17th century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran hanging in Auckland Castle, northeast England, have been saved from the auction block by a 15 million pound ($24 million) donation.
Investment manager Jonathan Ruffer made the donation through a new charitable trust set up to benefit people in the region.
It means the Church Commissioners, who manage an investment portfolio of some 5 billion pounds for the Church of England, will not be forced a sell the series of portraits of Jacob and his sons, a proposal which had drawn widespread criticism.
Auckland Castle has been the home to the Bishops of Durham for more than 800 years and is still the bishop's official residence today.
It opens to the public for several months a year, and under new plans revealed on Thursday the Church Commissioners are discussing ways to increase public access to the site.
Among its star attractions are the eight-foot-high Zurbaran paintings, which hang in the Long Dining Room.
Painted between 1640 and 1645, they depict Jacob and his 12 sons. The twelfth son "Benjamin" is not in fact the work of Zurbaran but of Arthur Pond, an artist, copyist and art critic of the 18th century, according to the castle's website.
Bishop Trevor bought the paintings in 1756 for 124 pounds, after a history which probably took them to South America before coming to England.
Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, said: "It is excellent news that the Zurbarans remain in their historic home and that the castle will be more accessible to the public."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato