An innovative intervention on a panel painting by Antoni Peris

In collaboration with Museo del Prado

Enrique Quintana, Head of the Paintings Conservation Department at the Museo del Prado, approached Factum with a request to apply digital technology to the preservation of a panel painting by Antoni Peris (Valencia, 1388-1424). The panel, currently part of the Prado’s collection (and, until recently, not on display) is titled Nuestra Señora de Gracias y los grandes maestres de Montesa, and used to act as the altarpiece in the archbishop’s palace in Valencia.

How to intervene on the gilded background presented a challenge for the conservators at the Prado: the image of the Virgin was significantly altered during a 19th-century restoration, shifting the meaning of the artwork as a whole. Any direct intervention to remove these recent additions would have resulted in the permanent elimination of a layer in the painting’s historic trajectory, imposing in its place a new subjective interpretation. This is an example of the role digital technology can play in the preservation and understanding of works of art.

Instead of performing a physical removal of the nonoriginal background, the project defined by the Prado and Factum’s experts consisted of making a ‘new background’, a textured skin to cover the panel’s background, thus avoiding the need of transforming the painting forever. The surface characteristics of the skin have been taken from the 3D scanning of the gilded background of other original panels
that still form part of the altarpiece in Valencia. The general craquelure, as well as details of pouncing that decorate the background in the other panels by Peris, were adapted to the shape and dimensions of the panel in the Prado. This initiative has made it possible to present the painting in a way that resembles its original appearance. The altarpiece is now coherent even if the alteration is new and the previous restoration remains unchanged.

The first phase of the project, carried out in July 2022, consisted of recording one of the central panels of the altarpiece in Valencia. Using the Lucida 3D Scanner, the complete panel’s surface was captured in high-resolution, in order to obtain texture data that would be reworked to fit the panel in Madrid. In spite of the shiny, gilded surface of the background and frame, Lucida was able to capture every detail of the painting’s surface. The recording was carried out by Carlos Bayod with Ana Carrasco (PhD candidate in the Universidad de Granada’s Department of Painting).

In September 2022, the panel in Madrid was recorded using the same system, with the goal of obtaining a precise documentation of the dimensions, shape, curvature and surface of the original panel, onto which the new ‘artificial’ skin would be placed. The second phase has involved an experimental combination of digital processing techniques and manual craft production. Starting from the 3D depth map of the panel scanned in
Valencia, Factum’s Eduardo López has reworked the surface to adapt it to the background of the panel in Madrid. This new surface was printed in 3D with the Elevated Printing technology, then cast as a semi-flexible skin containing the relief. The CNC routing of the Prado’s panel was used as a base as a test during the process, thus avoiding the need to employ the original panel. Once the silhouette, thickness and other aspects of the skin were sorted, gold leaf was applied. This task, as well as the general supervision of the production process, was done by Silvia Álvarez with the help of Mar García Sánchez in constant coordination with the
Museo del Prado’s conservators.

Colour reference of the gilding with a printed reference of the infrared data © Oak Taylor-Smith | Factum Foundation

In the last step of the process, performed at the Prado’s workshop, the textured skin made by Factum was fixed to the original panel in a few contact points along the perimeter of the area to be covered, so the added surface could be removed in the future if required. The line of contact between the original painting and the ‘new background’ was reintegrated to fill the gap and guarantee a correct relation between the main figure and its surrounding area. This innovative project is an excellent example of how digital technologies of non-contact 3D recording and fabrication can help the challenging task of art conservation. Between the direct, transformative intervention on the original and the creation of an exact facsimile, there are infinite possibilities in which old and new materials can coexist and relate to each other, opening the door to a more creative approach to preserving authenticity.

The project was presented by the Museo del Prado in two live streams by restorer María Moraleda (Instagram) and art historian Joan Molina (Facebook).

Finished gilded frame © Oak Taylor-Smith | Factum Foundation

Detail of the finished gilded frame © Oak Taylor-Smith | Factum Foundation