FLORENCE, Italy – For the past five centuries, Michelangelo’s David has been hailed for his sculptural perfection and the embodiment of youthful beauty and strength.
Now, Italian officials want the sculpture to help showcase Italian craftsmanship and high-tech expertise in the digital age.
Over the next several months, a number of Italian engineers, technicians, craftsmen and restorers will use what the project coordinator has termed “the most advanced technology available today” to 3D print an exact copy of the 17-foot statue. The replica will then be the centerpiece of the Italy pavilion at the next World’s Fair, Expo 2020 Dubai, which was originally planned for this month but has been postponed until next October due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is a technology that is linked to historical memory, for future memory,” said Paolo Glisenti, Commissioner General for Italy at the fair. “History and innovation – these are the topics that interest us.”
Italian companies will be working on all aspects of the project, Glisenti said: “Promoting Italian scientific and technological expertise is part of the operation.”
He spoke at the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Florence museum that David has had at home since 1873, at a series of events held in Italy this week to celebrate a year before Mass.
David is arguably the most famous Renaissance statue in the world. The first colossal statue since ancient times made waves practically immediately after its unveiling in 1504. In his Chronicle of Michelangelo’s Life, written some 50 years later, Giorgio Vasari described it as a work of “just proportions, beauty and excellence” surpassing “all other statues, modern or ancient”.
Even in a year when tourism to Florence was hampered by the coronavirus, the statue remains a strong draw.
“It’s my marketing department,” said Cecile Hollberg, director of the Accademia, with a laugh. “It attracts visitors and we direct them to all other collections that are extraordinary and great.”
Although it hasn’t moved in nearly 150 years, the statue has its share of drama. It was damaged. It was fought over. It was at the center of copyright controversy. It was cleaned in 2004 for its 500th anniversary in a bitter dispute. It has inspired other artists and in 2012 a huge copy even traveled to New York City. More recently, it was featured in a video installation with fabric samples.
But above all, it was copied. Repeated.
It’s one of the few works of art that has a Wikipedia entry for its replicas that adorn the most unlikely locations like the main entrance to City Hall in Montevideo, Uruguay, a community park in Queensland, Australia, and downtown Sioux Falls. SD
The statue’s plaster cast in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has attracted visitors since it arrived in 1857.
Even Florence has two replicas. One made of marble was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence City Hall in 1910, where the original statue had been unveiled. A bronze copy also towers over the city at Piazzale Michelangelo, a square on a high hill.
The 3-D printed David is the only copy the museum has authorized since Ms. Hollberg won a copyright battle over the statue in 2017. The myriad of plastic statues, fridge magnets, and brightly colored T-shirts that make Florentine souvenir shelves swell are technically “not legal,” “She said.” But it’s hard to get to the bottom of it. “
Twenty years ago, Stanford University’s computer graphics department digitized David and made a 3-D copy using rapid prototyping technologies that could produce “exact replicas on a reduced scale,” according to project leader Marc Levoy, professor emeritus of computer science in Stanford said in an email.
The Italian reproduction will capitalize on technological advances since the Stanford project, said Grazia Tucci, a professor at the University of Florence who coordinates the creation, which she called the statue’s “digital twin”.
Using laser scanners and other instruments “normally used in industry and aerospace” to achieve the highest possible resolution, the original statue will be digitized (on Mondays when the museum is closed to the public), Ms. Tucci said.
The data will be processed and then used to create the reproduction using the “largest 3D printer in the world” along with “innovative materials” and resins, Ms. Tucci said, despite refusing to specify what types of materials it would be used. “We are still in the testing phase,” she said.
The statue is then machine polished and hand finished for a smoother finish, and restorers will add the finishing touches, including coloring the copy to reflect the tonalities in the marble and “add an aesthetic point of view to the work” said Mrs. Tucci.
The entire “making-of” of the statue will be videotaped and shown to visitors at the fair in Dubai, Glisenti said. The replica will be placed in the center of Italy’s multi-story pavilion so that visitors can view it from different angles and at different heights.
The process creates a treasure trove of data that technicians pass on to the Accademia and could prove invaluable if something happens to the original. This possibility sparked renewed concern a few years ago when Italian scientists published a paper claiming that stress on already cracked ankles could topple the masterpiece.
At the moment my ankles are fine, said Mrs. Hollberg. “Everything under control.”
The reproduction is expected to return to Italy after the Mass is over, but its fate is unknown for the time being.
High tech or not, the copy will never match the original, said Ms. Holberg. “The original has been in Florence since 1504,” she said. “A copy will never take that long.”