Many are the challenges posed by the re-production of Michelangelo’s David, a project promoted by the Italian Commissioner’s Office at Expo 2020 Dubai, the Museum of the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence and the Ministry of Culture in partnership with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Florence.
Let’s discover them together through the different phases of the project:
From Florence to Dubai
Digitalisation of Michelangelo's David
The project involves a team of technical experts and researchers from the world of academia and industry, coordinated by Professor Grazia Tucci in order to network the wide range of different specialist skills.
Digitization – the steps: Predisposing the data acquisition system | Data Acquisition | Data digitization | Data Processing | Data Analysis | Preparing the print files
The replica of Michelangelo’s masterpiece needs to overcome significant logistic and operational difficulties, such as the ones arising from the mere dimension of the work and the need to reproduce it in 3D. With a view to making a super-detailed digital re-production, instruments and methods specific to the world of industry were used through the involvement of Hexagon, which will collaborate with the group of geomatics engineers – as measurement and digitization experts are now called – from the University of Florence.
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Physical reproduction of Michelangelo’s David
Once completed the 3D data acquisition operations ahead of preparing a high-resolution digital twin is when the physical re-production of David begins.
A solid model will be made of Michelangelo’s masterpiece and will become the centrepiece in the exposition itinerary of the Italy Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai: the most sophisticated additive manufacturing instruments will make it possible to obtain a 3D print of the statue while Italian professionals of excellence in restoration will take care of the finishing with a view to producing a replica as similar as possible to the original, thus documenting the actual state of the statue today.
Layer after layer, materials amalgamate and harden under the effect of targeted radiations or filaments produced from recycled plastic material so as to not overlook the arduous task of protecting our fragile Planet, used to re-produce one of the most well-loved sculptures in the world.
The additive manufacturing technique does away with process scraps and the various parts, which derive from a complete engineering process, are assembled with special care in terms of resistance and safety.
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Photo by Massimo Sestini for @italyexpo2020
Finishing of Michelangelo's David
The digital era and 3D printing have inverted the process traditionally used to produce sculptures and replicas. Moulds and pantographs are supplanted by new methods still needing to be tested and evaluated. The David made for the Italy Pavilion at Expo Dubai is a first important step and a great challenge that intends to become a new starting point. Michelangelo’s David, the centrepiece of the Theatre of Memory at the heart of the Pavilion, needs to possess the aura and the cultural and aesthetic value of the original: it is a 3D document containing the signs of time and the anomalies of the material in order to bear witness to its history. What is staged here is the idea of beauty and of Renaissance harmony, a representation in which visitors can participate. This is why for two months Nicola Salvioli, an Italian expert in the field of the restoration of large sculptures, worked with his team to wrap the cast in a mixture of resin and Carrara marble powder in order to endow the sculpture with a “skin” that is instrumental to recreating the magic of emotional involvement and to characterise it by recording the most scientific aspects to “document” the heritage. After dozens of replicas, this is the first reproduction that aims to give a critical interpretation and not only a scenic representation.
Transport and installation
Transporting David was always thought to be quite an exceptional event. Without considering the vicissitudes of transporting the marble block from the Fantiscritti quarry to Florence, it too quite a laborious enterprise, described by Luca Landucci in his Diario Fiorentino dal 1450 al 1516, when the complete work was moved on the balcony of Palazzo Vecchio: (...) “And on the 14th day of May 1504, the Work of the marble giant was brought there; it finally came out at midnight and they were forced to break the wall above the door to a great extent so that it could exit it. And the same night, some stones were thrown against the giant to hurt it; so it was necessary to stand guard through the night: and it progressed very slowly, tied upright and dangling, without its feet touching the ground; with very sturdy wooden boards very ingeniously laid; however, it took 4 days to reach the Piazza, it got to the Piazza on the 18th at 12 noon; it was pushed forward by more than 40 men: it rested on 14 greased boards that were passed from hand to hand; and it was not until the 8th of June 1504 that it was painstakingly set down on the balcony, where Judith (la Giuditta) lay, which was removed and set on the ground in the Palazzo. Said giant was made by Michelangelo Buonarroti. (...) And on the 8th of September 1504, the giant was placed on the Piazza, and lay bare of all its tethers. (...). Also when it was “moved” from Piazza della Signoria to the Accademia di Belle Arti, between 31 July and 4 August 1873, by using the wagon designed by engineers Porra and Poggi, the original model of which is owned by Casa Buonarroti, the statue was placed vertically on a wagon with the lower part encased in a wooden box tethered at the base, at the knees and at the lower part of the legs; strong steel spiral coils were placed in the suspension mechanism to avoid shocks; the cart moved on tracks, with an ad hoc rotating plane to go around street corners. The equipment had been designed in the workshops of the Società per le Strade Ferrate Romane (Roman Railways). The transportation lasted five days because, due to the heat, it was only possible to work from 4 to 11 in the morning.”
Of course, the work weighed approximately 5 tons…!
Also the transport of David’s copy was a feat of great mastery and precision. For the first time “David” (or, better said, its copy) was transported horizontally. Its weight – less than 500 Kg – unarguably favoured the operation but handling it nonetheless required the particular expertise acquired through the in-depth knowledge of a restorer of works of art which made it possible to handle it with great deftness. After the delicate assembly phase that took place at the restoration workshop of Nicola Salvioli, the re-production of David was laid down on a specifically designed and produced milled polystyrene “bed”. Its digital model, through its negative, enabled the milling of the templates to be positioned in the weakest spots; these were divided in two parts in order to fully encircle the work. Thanks to a hoist placed on a scaffolding, the statue was lifted and laid on its side on the templates which were subsequently closed so as to hold the statue between them during its transportation.
It was an operation conducted with great expertise and professionalism by Otim, a company specialized in international shipments, which enabled the statue to be handled with no problem; once it left the workshop, it was lifted with a crane up to the height of the truck that transported David’s reproduction to Malpensa Airport, where it was boarded onto a cargo flight in a sturdy wooden container and flown to the United Arab Emirates.
Equally delicate and complex was its installation inside the Italy Pavilion; in this case, the operation was the reverse: the statue was placed vertically in a very narrow space with very little room for manoeuvre.
Inside the Pavilion
On the 27th of April, the re-production of Michelangelo’s David took centre stage at a solemn ceremony at the Theatre of Memory, an octagonal space with three lookout levels from which to admire the work from different perspectives. It is finally possible to look at David in the eyes, to catch the very intense look that Michelangelo willed it to have so as to leave no doubt that it was not force that defeated Goliath but the intelligence of Man.