Almost all of this text comes from the Factum Arte website. I have long admired the work they do in their conservation facsimiles and reproductions. The short film above is about Factum Arte’s production of three facsimiles of paintings by Caravaggio in San Luigi dei Francesi.
From Factum Arte:
To coincide with the 400th anniversary of the death of the Italian artist Caravaggio, the Municipality of Caravaggio has commissioned the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Factum Arte to make facsimiles of three paintings in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. These facsimiles will form part of content for a new Research Centre scheduled to open in September 2010. The high resolution recordings were carried out over a 4 week period 15th September to 14th October 2009. Work on the facsimiles, as well as on the production of a browser that allows the digital files to be viewed up to 5 times the real size, is ongoing.
The three paintings, depicting scenes from the life of St Matthew were commissioned for, and are currently housed in, the Contarelli Chapel and were actually Caravaggio’s first public commission. Initially the commission consisted of two large paintings, Calling of St Matthew and Martyrdom of St Matthew 1599–1600, with the third, St Matthew and the Angel, added in 1602. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 –1610) was one of the most influential Italian painters of the 17th century. His work proposed a new form of gritty realism which answered the requirements of the counter reformation. However, it provoked great controversy and some critics found his style inappropriate when applied to religious contexts. His use of artificial and theatrical light lent a heightened sense of drama to the scenes and characters depicted, charging his paintings with an intense pathos. More recently the paintings have been the subject of a different type of controversy; David Hockney, Roberta Lapucci and others have suggested that the images were made using some form of optical system. Evidence supported by the high resolution documentation points towards this theory and Factum Arte is now working with the Spanish realist painter Manuel Franquelo to reveal how they believe the paintings were actually made. The result of this collaboration will be a short video that will be shown at the Research Centre.
The three facsimiles will allow academics and enthusiasts to view the works up close, and study them in great depth. The original works, hanging in their intended location in the Contarelli Chapel attract many visitors and as a result can only be seen at an angle as access into the chapel has been reduced.
The level and accuracy of the documentation is unparalleled. There are two photographic stages in order to capture every detail in the paintings. The first is high resolution photography. All the paintings were photographed is small sections as 1:1 images taken at 700 dpi. This was done using equipment specifically designed for this work. The mosaic of photographs are stitched together in Madrid to create a one huge file of each painting (approximately 6 gigabytes for each painting). Factum Arte’s conservation experts make exact colour charts which are an essential tool to ensure exact colour when making the facsimiles. The second type of photographs are raking light images which reveal subtle changes in the surface, the complex texture in the ground and paint layers, cracking and interventions made during restoration. This information is vital for recreating the texture and surface on the facsimile.