Recording, digital restoration and textile facsimile of a Verdure tapestry

Museo Cerralbo, Madrid

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Description: Tapestry fragment with a central composition consisting in two birds (a macaw and a peacock), framed with a traditional verdure decoration of plants, flowers and trees aligned to the vanishing point, with a landscape of mountains and a stream in the distance
Location: Stove room at Museo Cerralbo, Madrid
Author: Anonymous
Dated: 18th century
Mesurements: 283 x 437 cm
Materials: Wool and silk

The Cerralbo Museum was originally a palace in Madrid, built in the 19th Century by the Marquis of Cerralbo, established as both a family residence and a gallery in which to exhibit their collection. The Marquis donated his palace, along with its collections, to Patrimonio Nacional. Due to poor conditions, some pieces had to be removed from their original location within the palace. This was the case for this verdure tapestry which could be found hanging as a curtain ‘in order to create a dark and romantic atmosphere. The Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España commissioned Factum Arte to make a facsimile that would hang in the tapestry’s original location.

The location at the Museum where the tapestry was originally placed

The project was divided into five steps:

1) Cleaning of the original tapestry at the Real Fábrica de Tapices, Madrid
2) High resolution recording of the tapestry. The return and archiving of the original piece.
3) Digital restoration.
4) Developing and testing a printing system on textiles with high definition colour accuracy.
5) Printing and arranging the hanging system at the museum’s stove room.

The data obtained allowed Factum Arte to investigate further the research based on historical and scientific information to determine the tapestry’s original colours and tonal range at the time of its production in the 18th century and the digital restoration of the tapestry’s tonal intensity. The first step was to bring the tapestry to the Real Fábrica de Tapices, where it was cleaned by the conservation department in preparation for digitalisation. The tapestry was dismantled and folded. Photographic documentation was taken of the rolled up tapestry and its transfer process.

Photographic documentation before cleaning process

Before the cleaning process, a detailed photographic documentation was done to record the tapestry prior to restoration. A written document was drawn up and observations related to the tapestry’s state were noted; this included old interventions, any detected damage and other important details relating to the tapestry’s conservation. Cartographic deterioration maps were drawn up from this information. These maps were then broken down into 30 quadrants and numbered for easy identification.

Generated quadrant map on tapestry photograph prior to further intervention.

Once the tapestry’s state had been documented, previous interventions were removed and a mechanical clean was undertaken on the obverse and reverse. The cleaning process took place over a single day, in a specially designed area, at the Real Fabrica de Tapices. The tapestry was soaked in demineralised water and cleaned using ‘Saponin’, a pharmaceutical soap product.

The tapestry during the cleaning process

Digitalisation of the Tapestry

Isabel Fernandéz preparing the tapestry before the colour digitalisation

High resolution documentation of the tapestry was carried out through non-contact digital scanning. The techniques employed by the scanning team were completely unobtrusive and there was, at no point, any physical contact with the tapestry.

Preparing the tapestry for panoramic photography

The photographic recording was done using automated panoramic photography equipment (Doctor Clauss), which consisted of a motorised panoramic head supporting a camera and lens, a computer to control the head, and archiving software for downloading and cataloguing the photographs.The tapestry was also recorded with the Lucida 3D Scanner. The Lucida 3D scanner scanned a section of the tapestry, approx. 0.52 m2 on both sides of the tapestry which has been digitalised in high resolution (100 micras (10.000 pixels / cm2).

Gabriel Scarpa preparing the Doctor Clauss

Gabriel Scarpa supervising the recorded data

The tapestry being scanned with the Lucida 3D Scanner

Digital file obtained from 3D scanning with the Lucida 3D Scanner. Front of tapestry, 50 x 50 cm.

Digital Restoration

Once the tapestry had been cleaned and documented, we proceeded to work on the tapestry’s digital restoration. One of the main advantages of this is that digital restoration is a non-invasive method of extracting or adding information and does not involve any physical contact with the original piece, thereby eliminating the risk of any potential damage occurring.

Blanca Nieto and Anna Paola Ferrara from Factum Arte working on the digital restoration of the Tapestry

Digital restoration

The printing process

Different supports and materials were tested, particularly sublimation printing on polyester textile and UVI ink printing. However, conventional industrial materials seemed to present a large number of limitations in terms of colour and textile quality and they were therefore deemed inappropriate. We finally opted for a fabric that produced a similar texture to that of a handmade tapestry: ivory coloured Ottoman fabric, which is 80% polyester, and 20% cotton. We proceeded to adjust the colour settings on the printer, both manually and digitally. A series of different coloured fabric samples were taken by direct observation of the tapestry. These colour samples serve to act as a constant reference in the verification of digital colour settings, in order to ensure their similarity to the original tapestry’s colours throughout of the restoration process.

The printing was undertaken on an Epson 11880 printer, modified by Factum to enable large scale printing. Due to its large size (280 x 438 cm), it was necessary to sew two fabrics together. The fabric was then placed on a frame in preparation for the application of the primer. After the application, it was dried at high temperature in order to cure the primer. The printing was done in two parts (top half and bottom half) as our printer is limited to a 440 x 150 cm printed surface at once. The perfect registration of the printed area was fundamental so the joint between the two halves was invisible. Whilst half of the tapestry was being printed, we rolled the other half of the fabric into a lateral tube designed for the printer for large-scale formats.

Rafa Rachewski supervising the printing

Colour recovery

1. Cerralbo Tapestry: Detail of the front of the C18th Verdure from high-resolution composite photograph taken by Factum Arte after cleaning.

2. Flipped detail of the back of the tapestry after cleaning, The coloured yarns are significantly less faded than the front of the tapestry. Restorations, that may be only just visible are clear when seen from the back.

3. The front of the tapestry after digital restoration. All previous repairs were studied with the conservator from the Real Fábrica de Tapices and were undone or re-done virtually onto the high resolution file.

4. The front of the tapestry with the re-coloured threads based on the evidence extracted from the image of the back of the tapestry and close study of the dyes in the threads. Some of the decisions are objective, others subjective. The area around the eyes of the Macaw was extensively restored and reworked. Once the reworking was removed it was decided that the pale circle around the eye was not part of the original intention. Some brown refils in the reeds were also clearly faded retouches. The beauty of this approach is that is allows time for reflection before any action is imposed onto the actual tapestry.

Final Facsimile

Final facsimile installed at Museo Cerralbo



Conservation and restoration by Factum Arte, under the technical supervision of Ana Schoebel from the Instituto de Patrimonio Cultural de España.
This work was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Culture

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