Digitization project to forge first-ever relationship between IU, Uffizi


In Florence, Italy, a momentous task is underway for members of IU’s Virtual World Heritage Laboratory: translating the Uffizi Gallery’s 1,250-piece sculpture collection into 3-D format.

The digitization project was announced May 25 after IU President Michael McRobbie signed a formal agreement with Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt.

“This is a historic and hugely ambitious project, one that will generate unparalleled opportunities for scholarly engagement with one of the greatest cultural institutions in the world,” McRobbie said at a private ceremony in Florence according to an IU press 

Under the direction of Informatics professor Bernie Frischer, IU doctoral students will be traversing the Greek and Roman antiquities inch-by-inch with 3D printers. It’s estimated that by 2020 — IU’s bicentennial — all 1,250 sculptures will be freely available online.

The implications of this project are vast, according to Frischer and Schmidt.

“Our ultimate goal is not simply to record the current state of ancient monuments but to digitally restore the monuments to their ancient appearance and to put them back into their reconstructed ancient context,” 
Frischer said.

Additionally, using 3-D computer modeling to reconstruct ancient artifacts offers galleries an insurance of sorts in the unlikely event of deliberate damage.

“Such a detailed mapping and rendering will act as a virtual ‘backup copy’ of the ancient statues and will enable global enjoyment of these works,” Schmidt said. “Whatever happens to the original, we will be able to use the models to reconstruct parts for future restorations.”

The Uffizi Gallery, opened in 1560 to honor Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, attracts more than 1.5 million visitors each year with works such as “Medici Venus,” “Sleeping Ariadne” and “the Niobids.”

The Digital Sculpture Project is expected to foster a synergic relationship between the Uffizi and IU’s Eskenazi Museum of Art. This could include mutual loans of artifacts, the set-up of temporary joint exhibitions and the creation of new virtual gallery tours.

“I am convinced that this new collaboration with the Uffizi Gallery will position Indiana University as an international leader in the museum world,” said David Brenneman, the Wilma E. Kelley director of the Eskenazi Museum of Art at IU.

An earlier version of this story referred to 3D printers as digital cameras.

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