The stories of the five missing Zurbarán women Friday, 3 February 2023

13 biblical portraits by Francisco de Zurbarán hang in Auckland Castle, depicting Jacob and his twelve sons. The women in their lives go unrecorded.

As part of the Missing Women project, local young people are telling the stories of Bilhah, Leah, Rachel, Ziplah and Dinah – the five missing Zurbarán women. Through the creative sessions, young people at Parkside Academy were able to connect with art and understand how to interpret exhibitions in museums and galleries. Below you can see how young people from Parkside Academy, one of the participating groups, told the stories of the missing women.

Missing Women has been led by Creative Youth Opportunities in partnership with The Auckland Project and Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

Supported using funding by Arts Council England and County Durham Community Foundation.


Lizzie Lovejoy Face Practice of Bilhah

Bilhah was one of Jacob’s concubines. A concubine is like a wife but without the legal partnership – for the sole purpose of having a child.
Jacob was married to Leah and Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife but he was tricked into marrying Leah too.
Bilhah was Rachel’s dad’s servant and he gave her to Rachel. Leah had four sons with Jacob but Rachel couldn’t get pregnant. She didn’t like this at all so she gave Bilhah to Jacob to have a child for her. Bilhah bore two sons for Jacob and Rachel called Dan and Naphtali.


Doodle of Dinah

Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and Leah. Shechem who was the son of Hamor wanted Dinah to

be his wife. Before Shechem even spoke to Jacob he took Dinah to his house in his town and raped her. Dinah’s brothers were VERY angry about this. The next day, Hamor spoke to Jacob and asked if Shechem could marry Dinah. But Dinah couldn’t be given to Shechem because he wasn’t circumcised. In order to be with Dinah, Shechem got circumcised. All the men in the town also got circumcised. While Shechem and the rest of the town’s men were still in pain from being circumcised two of Jacob’s sons, Levi and Simeon, went into the town and killed them all, including Shechem and Hamor. After killing the men, they took the women and children and plundered all the wealth in the town.


Artist Jilly in front of a painting of Leah

Leah was the oldest daughter of Laban. Jacob wanted to marry her younger, prettier sister so he worked for her dad as payment for her for seven years. After these years Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob hated this. He agreed to work seven more years so he could marry Rachel too – like he had wanted. Leah became pregnant multiple times and bore him six sons and a daughter. However, many children she gave him he would never love her. She was sad. She was miserable. She was alone.


Student drawing of Rachel

Rachel is a shepherdess. Jacob sees her and thinks she is beautiful. Rachel runs and tells her dad, Laban, that Jacob has arrived. Jacob is her cousin. Jacob is in love with Rachel. Jacob agreed that he would work for seven years for Laban in order to marry Rachel. After the seven years he was tricked into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister. Jacob agrees to work for another seven years to marry Rachel, but he marries Rachel in advance this time. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah.
Leah was able to conceive but Rachel couldn’t, so she had to use surrogacy. Rachel got Jacob to sleep with her servant Bilhah to get her pregnant. Bilhah had two sons for Jacob and Rachel.
Jacob and Rachel (and Leah) ran away with all they had and Rachel also stole her dad’s household gods. Laban was cross. When he comes after them Rachel lied about having the household gods.
Rachel does eventually have two sons herself but she dies in childbirth with the second one.




Young Parents crafting Ziplah

Zilpah was Leah’s half sister and worked as a servant for Laban. As a gift Laban gave Zilpah to Leah. Zilpah felt awful as she felt like a possession rather than a person. Rachel and Leah, who are sisters and Jacobs wives, got into a fight over Jacob. As a result, Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob to have more children with. This made Zilpah Jacob’s concubine which means a partner/ wife without the civil partnership. They ended up having two children. Although Zilpah bore them they belonged to Leah and Leah named them Gad and Asher.
Zilpah was passed around the family like a possession. She went from being Laban’s servant, to his daughter Leah’s servant and then one of Jacob’s concubines.




The Missing Women and ‘With Dinah’ exhibition begins on International Women's Day (8th March).


‘Missing Women’ and ‘With Dinah’ has been delivered in partnership with The Auckland Project, Creative Youth Opportunities, and Bishop Auckland Town Hall, and made possible with funding from Arts Council England; County Durham Community Foundation; Art Fund; and Durham County Council.