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  • Spain's Royal Tapestry Factory to deliver largest-volume order in 200 years
  • Madrid, Oct 7 (EFE).- Crammed between three-centuries-old looms and designs by some of the world's most outstanding old master painters, a team of professional weavers in Madrid is giving shape to the Spanish Royal Tapestry Factory's largest order in 200 years.

    With original sketches by Goya and Raphael visible as they work, the skilled artisans put the final stitches onto 32 tapestries commissioned by the German state of Saxony.

    The nineteenth-century building that houses the factory _ initially founded in Flanders in 1720, when the Belgian territories were under the suzerainty of the Spanish crown _ is packed with lush tapestries, complexly-woven carpets and majestic heraldic banners sporting ancient coats of arms created using the same handicraft techniques used three centuries ago.

    "It's proof of our good work," said Alejandro Klecker, the Factory's general administrator, showing evident satisfaction at the monumental task entrusted to the venerable institution.

    The 32-tapestry order, a series destined for the Dresden Palace in eastern Germany, is set to bring 1.2 million euros ($1.34 million) to the coffers of the Royal Factory, an income twice as large as the original estimate in 2016.

    In addition, the number of people working on the order is set to increase to 60 weavers _ twice as many as the factory employed in January _ most of whom are women.

    A sumptuous blue carpet welcomes visitors at the entrance of this neo-Mudejar style building _ designed by architect Jose Segundo de Lema _ that has seen the birth of masterpieces that now adorn the walls, floors and balconies of royal residences, cathedrals, public administration buildings and private collectors.

    "Spanish tapestries are known abroad but remain unknown here in Spain," lamented Klecker, whose ancestry is Austrian.

    Klecker said that the time-honored profession had barely survived the 2008 financial meltdown, as the factory risked being closed down due to the lack of orders.

    As luck would have it, however, the situation has now changed and the factory's outstanding debt has seen a sharp decrease in recent months, as the Saxon order came coupled with a renewed interest in the factory's invaluable tapestries.

    Among the newest clients are the magnificent Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, and the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral of Sigüenza, in the province of Guadalajara, northeast of Madrid.

    Valencia's cathedral also turned to the factory's services for the restoration of a seventeenth-century tapestry belonging to the "Patriarch" collection.

    Despite these national outliers, most of the factory's customers are foreign, with many stemming from countries such as Russia, Lebanon, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, according to Klecker.

    Lebanese buyers ordered the largest tapestry manufactured in decades: a 21-square-meter (226-square-foot) fabric representing the 1982 Sabra and Shatila refugee camps massacre of Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite civilians by a right-wing militia allied to Israel.

    One of the factory's prime assets is its obsessive preservation of traditional artisanal weaving techniques such as the rigid heddle loom, wooden bobbins and embroideries made with gold, silver and silk threads.

    A single tapestry takes between eight and 14 months to complete, Klecker explained.

    He added that, in the past, the art of weaving was more highly regarded than the profession of painter, as Goya could attest when he worked at the Royal Factory as a designer of "cartoons," or detailed compositions on paper that were later transferred to tapestries.

    Today, Goya's paintings and etchings are among the Prado Muesum's most prized treasures and his standing as one of the world's most sought-after painters is recognized internationally.

    In the factory's carpet section, up to 25 tons of multi-colored threads hang from the ceiling as workers apply the "Spanish Knot" technique, which allows for a thicker and denser ligature than the more common Turkish Knot.

    Klecker claimed that, with the use of the Spanish Knot, tapestries could be flawlessly preserved for "200 or 300 years."

    Some of the factory's most pre-eminent cartoon designers also include Juan Gris (1887-1927) and Vaquero Turcios (1933-2010), whose sketches the factory's master weavers traced and copied by hand, thread by thread, to produce these palatial works of art.

    "Nothing is industrial," boasted Klecker.

    This care for handcraftsmanship has allowed the factory to snag important national clients such as the Spanish Parliament, the Bank of Spain, the Complutense University of Madrid or Madrid's Professional College of Lawyers.

    In the factory's interior patio, numerous trees and plants are grown to be used to naturally dye the fabric, as well as cotton shrubs and flax plants to produce linen fiber.

    The cartoons of some of the tapestries can, over time, become extremely valuable: for example, Raphael's design for "The Death of Ananias" has been estimated to be worth one million euros ($1.12 million).

    Several of these breathtaking cartoons are set to temporarily leave the factory's collection to be displayed in exhibits such as the upcoming "Modern Threads" in Badajoz, southwestern Spain.

    By Kay Levin.

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