University of Zaragoza:
A workshop

In March 2022, Factum Foundation carried out a new digitisation and training initiative focused on the unique series of wall paintings removed from the Church of San Juan Bautista de Maltray de Ruesta (Huesca) and other churches that form part of the ‘French route’ of the Camino de Santiago. The paintings, dating from the 12th century, are considered masterpieces of the Aragonese Romanesque. The aim of the work was to obtain high-resolution records of the current condition of the paintings (both in colour and 3D) as the base for digital restoration, and if ever needed, facsimiles.

In the 20th century, the removal of paintings from churches in north-eastern Spain using the invasive strappo technique was a normal part of their preservation. The wall paintings originally covered the apse of the Church of San Juan de Ruesta, and after their removal, the church lost its function and its meaning and fell into near-total disrepair. An extensive restoration project carried out by the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro and designed by Sergio Sebastián Arquitectos, has recreated a new space and provided access to the church, making it a landmark of great interest and the potential production of a facsimile would allow the frescoes to be seen in their original context once again.

A team from Factum Foundation worked with a group of graduate students from the Universidad de Zaragoza’s Máster de Gestión de Patrimonio Cultural to record the wall paintings, now within the collection of the Museo Diocesano de Jaca. As part of Factum’s ‘learning by doing’ educational model, the students recorded in the museum and in the church, employing different recording methodologies to understand the strengths and limitations of each.

The data was processed into three high-resolution browsers that are now able to provide insight into both the colour and 3D surface of the frescoed fragments, and inform potential physical restorations and dissemination projects.

Students from the Máster de Gestión de Patrimonio Cultural attending the theory classes © Pedro Miró for Factum Foundation

Gabriel Scarpa recording the colour of the the apse inside the church of San Juan de Ruesta and the Cristo Pantokrator fragment on display in the Museo Diocesano de Jaca, also recorded in high resolution © Factum Foundation

Digital restoration

Over the course of the following months, the students applied their knowledge of cultural heritage and digital technologies to propose a digital restoration of the damaged areas of the frescoes. Following the methodological and technical indications of the University of Zaragoza professors and the Factum Foundation team, the students worked in groups to propose different strategies for the reconstruction of the missing areas using the best-preserved ones as reference.

The results suggest different approaches to the recovery of the lost colours and shapes and this information could be included as part of the conservation history, the study and the dissemination of the paintings. They demonstrate the possibilities of digital technology to propose new approaches to cultural heritage and its study.