by Matthew McMillion, 3D Scanning Analyst, Artec 3D
Part of knowing where we are going is knowing where we’ve been. This is the belief that makes historic preservation so important. As a human race, it’s important to preserve the buildings, structures, and objects that came before us to not only study the past, but also to reflect on human life, beliefs, and conditions and how they have changed. This was the case for the Cathedral of Florence’s Baptistery, which in 2016 began a project to replace and restore the original 14th century bronze doors on the south side of the building.
When Italian goldsmith, sculptor, and architect Andrea Pisano put the finishing touches on the ornate bronze doors he created for the Cathedral of Florence’s Baptistery in 1336, only twelve years remained until the Black Death would strike Italy from the sea and begin its devastating march across Europe. The population of Florence wouldn’t fully recover for another 500 years. But in the decades prior, there was much for the local citizens, artists, and merchants to celebrate.
Dante and several other well-known Renaissance figures had been baptized in the cathedral’s baptistery, said to have been first erected in the late fourth or early fifth century AD. However, it wasn’t until the year 1329 that Florence’s powerful and influential Cloth Merchants Guild, responsible for taking care of the baptistery, decided to replace the existing wooden door with bronze doors.
When Pisano finally unveiled the towering cast bronze doors, they quickly became the pride of Florence. Their 28 intricately carved relief panels, with various geometric patterns and shapes as well as 20 scenes from the life of John the Baptist, captivated the imagination of countless citizens and religious pilgrims. Yet, in the 680 years since the massive, 8-ton doors were first erected, they had suffered significant deterioration due to weather and pollution. Over the centuries, a buildup of unstable salts was slowly eating away at the bronze, destroying the very artwork itself.
As part of a cultural preservation project sponsored by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, it was decided to replace Pisano’s doors with exact replicas. The baptistery’s other two sets of doors, those for the east and north sides of the building, had been replaced years earlier. Now all that remained were Pisano’s original bronze doors. For accomplishing this endeavor, the Opera partnered with the Frilli Gallery, a leading Florence art studio famous across Italy, and around the world, for its impeccable standards of artistic mastery. From beginning to end, the Frilli Gallery fastidiously coordinated the efforts of dozens of skilled specialists.
What proved to be a challenge from the start was the lack of molds and casts for the doors. While the east and north doors had plaster casts – which made it possible for duplicates to be made – Pisano’s south doors did not. Considering the complex surfaces of the doors and artwork, and the need to recreate them as perfectly as possible, the restoration team decided to use 3D scanning for the project, which could create highly accurate digital models that capture detail down to a one hundredth of a millimeter. Compared to traditional casting methods that heavily involve contact with the doors, during the 3D scanning process, the only thing touching the delicate artifacts were photons.
After careful research on qualified firms capable of handling such a project of immense cultural importance, Prototek, a 3D scanning/printing service provider in Valenza, Italy, was chosen. With years of experience in digital capture, 3D design, and 3D production services, Prototek didn’t hesitate when they were asked to take part in this high-profile cultural preservation project.
“We were honored to participate in this multi-stage project, as it carried a profound level of significance for the citizens of Florence and all of Italy,” said Andrea Barchi, Prototek COO. “The degree of results we achieved, now visible to anyone walking by the new doors, attest to the quality of our work, and this is something we’re ready to offer any client, regardless of project size or complexity.”
Following the careful removal of the two giant doors (16.2 feet tall by 9.6 feet wide and weighing around 8 tons) from the baptistery, they were meticulously, yet gently, attended to by master restorers, repairing the damage and removing the oxidation that had built up through the centuries. As the restorers continued their work on the doors, the original gilding and magnificent details of Pisano’s artistry began to emerge.
Then the 3D scanning began. Prototek chose the Artec Space Spider for digitally capturing each intricately crafted panel of Pisano’s bronze doors.