Using digital photography, scientists have been able to reconstruct the colours in tapestries at Hampton Court. The many tapestries commissioned by King Henry VIII, particularly the ten Abraham tapestries created to celebrate the birth of Prince Edward, used to be shining with bright colours, gold and silver, but are now, as expected 500 years later, completely faded. They have been able to analyse the colours of the thread at the back of the tapestries, in order to work out the exact colour and then reapply it to a photograph so that we can see how they would have looked in the 16th century.
When Paul Hertzner, a lawyer from Germany, visited Hampton Court in 1598, he reported in amazement: “All the walls in the palace shine with gold and silver.” Now visitors amble past one of the greatest surviving sets of tapestries in the world with scarcely a glance at figures barely distinguishable against a once glowing background.
Until yesterday, when the 500-year-old tapestry shone again in crimsons, blues, yellows, greens and pinks. The magic was achieved by light, the very medium that destroyed the colour in the first place.
The tapestries have always been on display, but I haven’t been to Hampton Court for years and I don’t remember them at all. I’ve been meaning to go again for ages and now with all the celebrations for Henry VIII’s accession to the throne starting next month, I’ll make sure to go at some point.
They’re going to open an exhibition Henry VIII’s Tapestries Revealed, where lights will be shone on the tapestries to show the colours to the public. I don’t think they’ve announced when this will be, but this is what’s on the Historic Royal Palaces website:
We are developing the lightshow technology to produce a ‘virtual’ colour reconstruction of a tapestry. This technology will provide images of the scientifically-derived original appearance of a tapestry.
This will then either be projected onto large screens or – as has been successfully done in the preliminary study – on to the existing hanging tapestry. You will be able to see the tapestries in their original splendour for the first time in centuries.