The recreation of the Borgherini Chapel


In January 2017, two specialists from Factum Arte spent four days at the San Pietro in Montorio church in Rome recoridng  the Borgherini Chapel. The original chapel, completed in mid-16th C. by two of the world´s greatest Renaissance Masters, Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo, was recorded by Gabriel Scarpa and Guendalina Damone using specific photographic techniques, namely, composite colour photography and photogrammetry. Recording was carried-out using a Canon 5DSR, alternating between a Sigma 50mm lens for heights at eye-level or below, and a Canon 300mm f2.8 lens for higher areas.

Over 2,400 overlapping images were taken at 300 DPI of the curved wall depicting the Flagellation with St Peter and St Francis (1524), the half-domed vault representing the Transfiguration (1516), the lunettes with St Matthew and St Isaiah, and the two columns which stand on either side.

  • Recording the Borgherini chapel

Back in the Factum Arte workshops in Madrid, the photographs were processed in two different ways. A photogrammetry software extracted data from the photographs to create a highly accurate digital 3D model of the full chapel. Other photographs were stitched  together at sub-pixel accuracy to get data on dimensions and colour , forming vast composite images, often referred to as giga-pixel images. Irregularities in tone and exposure on both datasets were corrected using colour notes in addition to grayscale and colour charts. 

  • 3D renders of the Borgherini Chapel created by merging the different datasets

The construction of the physical chapel demanded a combination of ancient construction techniques with artisanal skills. The plaster was formed using the same techniques used in 16th C. Italy. Profiles were taken from the original plaster work to re-form the plaster mouldings and dome trim. The structure of the chapel was recreated using a lightweight steel construction clad in plywood, mounted on aluminium panels, topped by a fibre glass dome. 

  • Profiles were taken from the original plaster - the facsimile was made using the same plaster forming techniques used in 16th C. Italy
  • Creating the facsimile´s structure

The process of printing the images of Borghreini´s curved and domed surfaces was similar to the production of a traditional globe. Before printing, the images were ‘flattened’ using 3D Studio Max,  then sectioned off . The representation of the Transfiguration on the inside of the dome was particularly challenging because the dome is not a true section of a sphere. The correct projection is a mix of calculation and trial and error. 

Print of the Borgherini chapel dome inspired by gore maps

We were able to print the central panel of the Borgherini chapel onto one single piece of canvas because our flatbed inkjet printer prints in perfect registration and allows for the support to be wrapped around the bed. It was printed in sections with each section joining perfectly to the next along features in the image. 

  • Printing sections of the central panel of the Borgherini chapel
  • . The printer prints in sections without any visible joins

At 20 ft. tall and 13 ft. wide structure, our recreation of the Borgherini Chapel, is about 90% of the original´s size because anything bigger would not have fitted in the gallery space.

The recreation of the Chapel was sent to the National Gallery in London upon completion on February 10th 2017. It will be on display as part of the exhibition Sebastiano and Michelangelo (15 March - 25 June 2017).

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