A priceless set of Raphael tapestries is in danger after pigeons and their droppings appear at a Spanish exhibition. The nine tapestries currently on display in the main gallery of the Royal Palace of Madrid have survived the past 500 years in near pristine condition. But the gallery staff are now doing their best to keep the winged pests from causing damage that, Guardian reported.
The tapestries with the title Acts of the Apostles, were commissioned by Pope Leo X to decorate the Sistine Chapel in 1515. After Raphael had completed the sketches depicting scenes from the life of St. Peter and Paul, they were sent to a Brussels workshop, which translated the designs into life-size hangings made of gold and silver silk and wool threads. Acts of the Apostles are the only known tapestry designs by the artist and the last major project he completed before his death in 1520. Impressed with the work, European monarchs, including Spain’s Philip II, commissioned replicas of the tapestries to decorate their own courts.
The tapestries of Philip II have been exhibited since November last year on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael. The bird problem has emerged in recent weeks when the spring and summer heat made it necessary to ventilate the gallery so that the birds can fly in through the open windows from the palace grounds.
Spain’s National Heritage Institute, Patrimonio Nacional, which oversees the tapestries and the exhibition, said in a statement: “None of the tapestries has suffered any damage at any point,” adding that a “thorough search” of the building found none Pigeons nest in the palace.
The institution said two ultrasound machines were now in place to deter the pigeons from entering the rooms where the tapestries are on display. “At the same time, we also do a controlled opening of the windows so that the gallery is properly ventilated to ensure the safety of visitors while preventing birds from entering the interior,” she added.
The tapestries are one of two stock designs by Raphael in the castle’s collection and are considered to be the best-preserved tapestries based on the original sketches. Others were not doing so well: The replicas commissioned by Francis I of France were lost during the French Revolution and the British copies were destroyed in World War II.
“Your excellent condition can be explained by a combination of factors,” Patrimonio Nacional told the Guardian. “Some are related to their weaving mill in Brussels, which uses tough fibers and high-quality natural dyes, while the lack of metal threads has prevented oxidation and corrosion.”