PORTRAITS dismissed as "ugly and unworthy" by a former Bishop of Durham have gone on display to the public.

The 17th Century portraits by Flemish artist van Eersel were painted on the orders of the then Bishop of Durham John Cosin.

However the bishop was evidently unimpressed with the artist’s efforts, writing to the clerk overseeing the work: “Hasten on van Ersell to the finishing of his works. Everybody that comes to me from Durham speake highly of the library-room, but say that his picture painting of faces is very ugly and unworthy of the roome.”

The works, commissioned in 1669, depict writers from classical antiquity through to the Renaissance and adorn the bookcases in Bishop Cosin’s Library at Palace Green Library, part of a long tradition of decorating libraries with portraits of authors which goes back to ancient Greece.

On Seeing the Author: Portraits in Libraries from Antiquity to the Present opens to the public at Palace Green Library in Durham on Friday (January 30).

The exhibition is the result of the Living Poets research project, which has taken place in Durham University’s Classics and Ancient History Department, to explore how people have imagined ancient authors over time.

Project Director Professor Barbara Graziosi said: “For millennia, people watching plays, listening to songs and poetry, and reading books have understood that an author was responsible for the words they are experiencing.

“Thinking about the author has always been important in thinking about the words themselves.

“Sometimes this can lead to disappointment when the portrait of the author looks nothing like the person imagined by the reader. This leads us to think about how we view modern authors through their portraits and personalities.”

Visitors can draw their own conclusions at Palace Green Library until April 26. The exhibition is open on Mondays from noon to 5pm and from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Admission is £4.50 for adults or £3.50 for concessions.