The workshops were founded 295 years ago by King Philip V in another area, and moved to the present site in 1888. Until 1995 it was a family-run business, but since then it has been managed by a consortium comprised of the Ministry of Culture, Madrid regional government and the city council. It has had severe financial problems for many, many years, but the workshops were saved from financial ruin a few ago by a series of commissions for restoration of existing tapestries, and creation of some new ones. One is to recreate thirty-two tapestries for the Elector’s Palace in Dresden, Germany, which were destroyed by allied bombs in 1945 (the biggest order in 250 years). Another is tor create 32 for the government of Saxony, also in Germany.
But perhaps the most notable commission has come from Palestinian businessman and collector of Arab art, Ramzi Dalloul, for whom the workshop are to transform a large drawing by Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982 into a wall hanging. The original drawing was bought by the Tate Gallery in London in 2014. There are plans to display the completed tapestry in the Reina Sofía Museum alongside Picasso’s “Guernica.”
Other workshops have either stopped production or produce work of inferior quality (or so I was told). There are samples on display, one from this workshop and one from Aubusson in France that were produced for the Dalloul commission, which show very clearly the superiority of the work of the Madrid workshops.
I also saw the work on the restoration of large carpets, and the embroidery workshop. It was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited in Spain, and something not to be missed if you get the opportunity. It’s a guided tour only, once an hour, and you should book in advance. And only €5. Thank you to to our volunteer guide.
Some references for further reading:
- La Real Fábrica de Tapices evita el cierre al recibir varios encargos internacionales article (in Spanish, but can get an automated translation) by Expansión, the business newspaper. Worth looking at even if only for the pictures.
- Tapestry of Sabra and Shatila massacres could hang next to Picasso’s Guernica. In The Art Newspaper.
- Website of the Royal Tapestry Workshops, unfortunately a just a Flash object, and hasn't been updated for a while I think.