A BID to turn County Durham into an international destination for lovers of Spanish art has taken a step forward.

Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, Durham University and The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, have united to use the county's rich concentration of Spanish art to attract academics and visitors from around the globe - a move which could also have an important economic spin-off..

Their vision was further cemented with news that the three institutions have joined together to host a three day conference next month featuring experts on the Spanish Golden Age of art.

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It coincides with important newly discovered and restored works from the Golden Age, which dates from 1492 to 1659, going on display in Auckland Castle and Bowes Museum.

Some of the display pieces are on loan from the National Gallery in London and Madrid’s Museo del Prado.

Dr Andy Beresford, Durham University’s co-ordinator of Spanish art research, said: “We are very much looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship and to establishing an internationally renowned centre for the study of Spanish art in Britain.

“It also has the potential to raise the profile of Spanish art in County Durham and of the cultural richness of the North-East more broadly.”

Between them, The Bowes Museum, Auckland Castle and Durham University house the largest pool of Golden Age Spanish art outside London.

It includes the famous Zurbarans which have hung in Auckland Castle for 250 years.

Adrian Jenkins, director of The Bowes Museum, said: “The intention is that we will work closely together long-term to establish something truly unique.

“Hopefully it will result in the county proclaimed internationally as a hub for the examination and understanding of Spanish art.”

Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s head curator, said: “This is the beginning of our exciting project to make Spanish art accessible to the people of the North-East and beyond.”

The Paintings of the Spanish Golden Age: The Collections of County Durham conference is at Auckland Castle on October 23, Bowes Museum on October 24 and the university on October 25.

At the same time Auckland Castle and The Bowes Museum will exhibit work by Spanish artists.