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Former choirboy turned official portrait painter at Blackburn Cathedral

by Ros Mayfield
Blackburn artist Jack and Bishop-thumb.jpg - Banner image
Church of England

Blackburn Cathedral says a risky decision for the official portrait of a retired bishop, has proven to be a success.

Displaying an official portrait of past incumbents is a traditional way to honour the role retiring bishops and deans have played in the life of a diocese.  The same goes for US Presidents, monarchs, and Lords - and Ladies - of the manor.

It's a prestigious commission, rarely given to anyone not already appreciated for their artistic talent.  But in a break with custom, Blackburn Cathedral agreed to offer the job to a former choirboy.  Jack Aspinall said he'd had no formal training or art lessons, but asked if he could "have a go". 

He's now part of the virging team and wanted to be the one to paint the retired bishop, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, which he agreed to do with, "no strings attached and no promise it would hang as the official portrait."

The former bishop, who retired in July 2022, returned to the diocese last week to unveil the result.

The study in oil will hang on the wall in Blackburn cathedral’s undercroft – and will also feature in an exhibition of Aspinall's other works, in the cathedral's Temple Gallery.

The Dean of Blackburn, the Very Revd Peter Howell Jones said: “I wasn’t convinced to be honest... but he persuaded us to let him... and I’m very pleased we did, not just for the cathedral but for Jack, whose dream has now become a reality.’

The work will be on display in the Temple Gallery until mid-October.

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