Goya’s Copper plates at the Calcografía Nacional

In October 2023, a team from Factum Foundation recorded a selection of original printing plates by Francisco de Goya at the Calcografía Nacional, advancing a project that was attempted 25 years ago with the now-director Javier Blas. The project, carried out by Jorge Cano, Carlos San Juan and Marina Luchetti, captured the relief data of the unique surface of the plates at an unprecedented spatial resolution of about 25 microns, using the Selene Photometric Stereo System.

A digital “print” made using the data recorded from the copperplates © Teresa Casado | Factum Foundation

The collection of more than 200 original plates, made by Goya for the Caprichos, Disparates, Desastres de la Guerra and Tauromaquia, has recently been the subject of an innovative treatment by the conservation and restoration experts at Calcografía Nacional. After removing the 19th-century steel facing, which was presenting conservation challenges due to rusting, the original copper surfaces of the plates have been revealed.

Factum Arte grew out of the work of Adam Lowe and Manuel Franquelo at the Calcografía Nacional in Madrid. One of the earliest projects was focused on the state of Goya’s etching plates, working with the master printmaker Hugh Stoneman to scan the surface of the plates and merge tone (dustgrain heliogravure) with CNC-milling to recreate the etched lines. The results were positive but were dependent on Hugh Stoneman’s skill and experience.

The Selene System, after its successful use on the Rawlinson collection at ARCHiOx, now demonstrated that it is possible to record, study and disseminate copper plates as three-dimensional topographies, exploring them in minute detail on screen. The recording in high resolution can also be used to create new printed editions without endangering the originals. The images are digital and derived from the subtle variations in depth on the surface of the plate, making them an objective representation of the aquatint and etched lines on the surface of the copper.

Jorge Cano and Marina Luchetti recording one of the copper plates © Jorge Cano | Factum Foundation

Marina Luchetti positioning one of Goya’s copper plates under the Selene © Jorge Cano | Factum Foundation