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Artec Leo and Artec Space Spider help digitize the sacred sculpture of the Pietà

Challenge: To create an exact digital twin of the Pietà, a sculpture that encapsulates one of the central motives in Christian art and attracts numerous pilgrims to the city of Šaštín, Slovakia.

Solution: Artec Leo, Artec Space Spider, Artec Studio

Result: A quick, highly precise 3D model of the Pietà sculpture, safely captured in all its glory and with rapt attention to every aesthetical detail, ready for 3D printing.

Why Artec: A go-to digitizing technology for many art conservators, the lightweight, non-invasive, and portable Artec 3D solutions have made a name for themselves by capturing cultural heritage of all forms, from sculptures and relics to buildings and entire sites of worship.

The Pieta Digitized

The Pietà is one of the central subjects in Christian art, depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the mortal body of Jesus Christ. Image courtesy of 3D Master

Art in the 21st century is still something to worship for many, but one thing that’s changed is that it’s also much more accessible; high-resolution digitization is one technology helping to both preserve masterpieces and open them up for wider audiences to enjoy. As technology is continuously refined, perfected, and advanced, we are fortunate to examine details more sophisticated than anything the human eye could spot. Whether it is for restoring a painting, researching ancient civilization relics, or 3D printing a sculpture, ultra-precise 3D scanning has become the gold standard for obtaining the necessary data.

One of the many undeniable advantages of 3D scanning is that it is entirely contact-free: with your object untouched, you eliminate any risk of damage, which makes 3D scanners ideal devices for transferring valuable items to the virtual world. Thus, when it comes to digitizing especially valuable and fragile objects such as the Pietà, it is entirely possible to recreate a work of art’s appearance, authenticity, and meaning – while keeping it safe.

And so the story begins: Artec 3D scanning solutions called upon creating a faithful reproduction of a precious cultural asset – which also happened to be all gold and shiny, something that could prove tricky without the right equipment.

The devotional meaning found in a sculpture

The Pietà is one of the central subjects in Christian art: it depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the mortal body of Jesus Christ after his descent from the Cross. Often found in sculpture, it shows Jesus mourned by the Virgin Mary alone – a particular form of the Lamentation of Christ. The motif has a poignant emotional meaning: the scene has captivated both believers and art lovers starting from the early 14th century with the heart-wrenching sorrow of a mother embracing her deceased child.

Having inspired numerous artists from the early Franco-Germanic creators to Michelangelo in 1499, the theme found another sculptural incarnation in the Slovak town of Šaštín. The statue became a destination point for numerous pilgrims from all over the world, arriving to pray and admire the sculpture considered miraculous. In 1733 the Pauline Fathers founded a pilgrim church and a monastery around the Pietà, which strengthened its sacred meaning for believers through the following centuries, especially during the communist regime in the 20th century. Amid the persecutions ravaging the country at the time, Šaštín served as a shelter for Slovaks to keep their faith – both in God, and in peace.

The Pieta Digitized

Often found in sculpture, the motif has an emotional meaning that appeals to both believers and art connoisseurs. Image courtesy of 3D Master

Today, the Pietà holds a special place in the collective national memory, and when a Holy Mass was to be celebrated by the current pope, Pope Francis, the community made a decision to 3D print the miraculous sculpture for the ceremony, where 50,000 believers were expected. Two tech companies, Monkeyfab and Artec 3D Ambassador 3D Master, were chosen to create a true-to-life replica of the hallowed statue.

Best of the two scanners to harmlessly capture a priceless object

3D Master took the challenge incredibly seriously: even with their years of 3D scanning experience, the Pietà presented a scanning challenge with its intricate geometry, shiny golden surfaces, and elaborate details such as the crowns. It was vital to choose the right solution for ultra-accurate data capture without compromising safety: these requirements for the project prompted using a combination of the Artec scanners: Artec Leo and Space Spider.

Given the sculpture’s significance and value, the work had to be done with utmost attention paid not only to rendering its full aesthetics but also supervising the process from the conservator’s perspective. The invited expert watched over, making sure the technology met all the requirements and standards of handling valuable monuments and pieces of art.

The Pieta Digitized

3D data from Artec Leo and Artec Space Spider was combined in Artec Studio to create a perfectly refined 3D model. Image courtesy of 3D Master

With all the protective measures in place, the Pietà was first scanned with Artec Leo to obtain its overall digital replica at a resolution of 0.2 mm. Thanks to its revolutionary algorithms, the wireless AI-driven Leo captures high-quality 3D data while you move around the object as if shooting a video, without anything getting in the way. The scanner easily managed the golden reflective surfaces, after which it was time to render the complex geometry of the crowns – it was here that Artec Space Spider took center stage. This 3D scanner, based on safe blue-light technology, is often used specifically for capturing finer details with enhanced precision. The data from both scanners was then combined to create the final 3D model, perfectly true to the original.

“Thanks to 3D scanning, the model of the new figure is a reflection of the original with an accuracy of tenths of a mm, and the 3D print with appropriate parameters allowed to reproduce the smallest details,” said Piotr Twardo, owner of the 3D printing company Monkeyfab.

Using two scanners for one project was practically effortless due to how easily the data can be combined and processed in Artec Studio. The team was able to quickly obtain the geometry of the entire sculpture and its smaller elements, such as the stones in the crowns, at the same time. All that was left to do then was to create and refine the 3D model with Artec Studio’s algorithms. The final model was instantly ready for a 3D printer or CNC machine.

The Pieta Digitized

The intricate geometry of the crowns can now be admired in every tiny detail. Image courtesy of 3D Master

Art conservators have their say

3D-printed cultural artifacts, such as the Pietà, are important not only for preserving them and making them more accessible; in a wider sense, they help to collect stories and create intellectual and emotional bonds with the artworks. Art conservation professionals find it especially important to provide audiences with the full experience of a masterpiece, while also reducing potential risks.

The Pieta Digitized

Thanks to precise data capture, the eventual replica is stunningly true to the original. Image courtesy of 3D Master

“We try to keep up to date with modern technology, and 3D scanning is a useful tool, both for digitizing collections and making copies. As a conservator, I pay attention primarily to the safety of the monument. Until now, making replicas of sculptures or other large objects was associated with the need to enter into some closer contact with such an object,” explained the conservator Piotr Frączek.

“First, it was necessary to either measure it accurately or, for example, make a mold off it for casting. Therefore, it used to be always necessary to operate the object or be in direct contact with its surface. This raises risks that we would like to avoid. Scanning reduces this risk because the procedure is short and contactless. We receive a digital file that allows for further processing, from which we can make a copy of any scale in various techniques and materials.”

Fostering greater understanding of the shared cultural heritage

The similarity between the two sculptures is stunning, and it’s no wonder the eventual 3D-printed Pietà was in the limelight at the ceremony. “The sacred and at the same time historical artifact has gained its ‘double’, which can replace it, for example, during outdoor celebrations, while the monument remains protected,” Frączek concluded.

The Pieta Digitized

The 3D-printed Pietà in the limelight of the ceremony. Image courtesy of 3D Master

More good news is that the digital twin created with the help of Artec 3D technology perfectly reproduces the current state of the work of art, which allows for it to be studied, compared, or restored whenever needed. With a 3D model this versatile, you can do much more than just create a replica – it provides professionals and institutions, and many more custodians of tangible cultural heritage, with infinitely diverse ways to educate and inspire.

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