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3D Printing Works of Michelangelo

In honor of Michelangelo’s birthday on March 6th, FATHOM is thinking about its exploration of his work through the lens of 3D printing.

For centuries, the works of Michelangelo and other masters have been replicated as a way to bring historic art to the masses. Piero Mussi, an expert on the ancient art of lost wax casting, worked with Scansite and FATHOM to bring innovative, highly precise technology into the replication method.

“No artist can do it. Only the technology can do it.”
—Piero Mussi, Artworks Foundry

Fusing the traditional with the modern, the technological revolution and the Renaissance, three dedicated California groups – Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, ScanSite in San Rafael, and FATHOM in Oakland collaborated to use 3D scanning and 3D printing to cast perfect replicas of famous Michelangelo works in burnished bronze.

Michelangelo-Bacchus-Waist-3DPrinted
Michelangelo-Bacchus-Foot-3DPrinted
These replicas, in contrast to the ancient results of Lost Wax Casting, are nearly flawless copies, the most faithful recreation of Michelangelo’s sculptures possible, 6,000 miles from the home of the originals. Using industry-leading 3D technologies (scanning and printing), below is an outline of steps followed by the multi-disciplinary teams who truly replicated the works of a master—

  1. ScanSite scans the statue and converts point cloud data into an STL file.
  2. FATHOM analyzes the digital model, determines the optimal 3D printing technology, material, and orientation—3D prints model on an Objet500 Connex 3D printer (PolyJet in VeroBlue).
  3. Artworks Foundry takes FATHOM’s 3D printed model and creates a negative rubber mold.
  4. Wax is melted to 210 degrees F, poured into the mold, and evenly coated or “slushed” inside—mold is opened and the rubber peeled away.
  5. The wax pieces go through “wax chasing” to remove seams and repairing imperfections.
  6. The joined piece is gated and sprued, by which channels are created for the melted bronze to flow through.
  7. During “investment” process, a ceramic shell is built around the wax sculpture—this serves as a mold for the molten bronze.
  8.  The wax positive is destroyed in an “autoclave” (a high pressure steam chamber) and the negative “invested” shells are fully de-waxed in a kiln.
  9. Bronze ingots are melted in a furnace at 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit then and poured into a room temperature shell.
  10. During “devesting,” the final bronze sculpture is uncovered from beneath the ceramic investment, the gates and sprues are removed, and the whole piece is sandblasted and finished.

Pieta-Michelangelo-940x340
The result of the process is a more faithful recreation of the original work than anything possible from the human hand. Even the ancient masters cannot resist the march of innovation and technology—the question is, if they could, would they have wanted to?

To read more about a ‘less sanctioned’ example of recreating historic artwork, check out the Queen Nefertiti section of the most recent “Change is Additive” blog series, a weekly post of 3D printing news highlights from FATHOM.

Michelangelo-Madonna
For more photos chronicling this process, go to www.studiofathom.com/Michelangelo.