It is not our intention to compare ourselves to Caravaggio. It would only be presumptuous, to say the least. However, we would like to explain the tremendous and demanding work of modelling (and not just that!) that was carried out to replicate the Flagellation of Christ in 3D and how this goes a long way to demonstrate that 3D printed art is coming of age.
The work was created by starting from a very high-resolution image of the painting, followed by a study – practical and theoretical – to make Caravaggio’s masterpiece three-dimensional and, more importantly, not to distort it, both from a visual and a conceptual point of view.
The 2D image was then used as the reference point to shape to the smallest detail the depth areas created at a later stage in the 3D version of the Flagellation of Christ.
In order to achieve this and have the right areas with the right amount of protrusion, we started from principles, i.e. the contrasts in light of Caravaggio’s work; it is the lights and shadows that define the depth, in addition, of course, to the painstaking work of the modeller, who created volumes by hand, using some sort of virtual brush on a graphic tablet.
Once a 3D file faithfully reproducing the Flagellation of Christ was obtained, a scan of the painting was applied to it. Think of a bas-relief carved on a wall and a projector that casts on it an image that fits the protrusions. The mechanism is the same: the high-resolution image of the painting was applied to the 3D model.
This step was necessary for us to be able to print Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ in 3D with CJP (ColorJet Printing) technology. The rapid prototyping took place by means of depositing layer-by-layer gypsum powder that can be coloured with the full spectrum of colours. This was purely intended to simply make the 3D work more appealing also for the sighted that may have the chance to look at it and touch it.
Lastly, the final procedure before getting the finished piece: post-production.
After being taken out of the printer, the 3D painting was polished: a very delicate and with no margin of error step. A precise touch is crucial, because the risk of compromising the final product is real.
Was Caravaggio’s Art Made to Be 3D?
It is remarkable how the works of Caravaggio are so well-suited to being 3D printed. It’s almost as if Michelangelo Merisi, with his artistic career in full swing, had foreseen that 400 years later his paintings would have proven perfect to leave the two-dimensional space and even be touched by a blind man’s hands.
Indeed, his very own style is of great help to this ambitious project. More precisely, it is the two main features that made his style so unique: realism and night effect.
Let’s start from the light and shadow play. Caravaggio used to place a lantern near the model he wanted to depict, plunged into darkness (indeed, the creation of ‘raking light’): this way it would have been easier to portray on the canvas the desired effect. That is to give a certain degree of three-dimensionality to the subjects represented, emphasized by Caravaggio’s distinctive lighting that confers a sense of volume to the bodies, which seem to ‘come out’ of the scene.
Thanks to 3D printing, they don’t just “seem” but they do really come out. And if, as already mentioned, the other main feature of Caravaggio’s works is realism, how could the Flagellation of Christ be more real, if not by turning it into a 3D-printed painting?
Even Merisi’s choice not to fill shadow areas with too many details, but to actually leave them empty, when transposed into 3D, offers the visually impaired the opportunity not only to appreciate a painting overcoming the ‘limit’ of eyesight, but also to stand on an equal footing with the sighted, who perceive less details in the darkness than if they were under a source of light.
So, in this respect, this 3D version of Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ is extremely coherent. The column to which Christ is tied can hardly be seen in the painting and therefore it will only be barely perceivable to the touch in its 3D version.
Likewise, Christ’s right leg, that on the canvas appears in dim-light and in middleground with only the instep illuminated, will appear as such to the touch, as well: who touches it will understand that it is behind the left leg, and the instep of the right foot will be more protruding than the other parts of that foot, which, instead are hidden by the shadows.
Moreover, we need to dwell upon the figure stooped in front of Christ, who on the canvas is almost entirely immersed in darkness, despite being in the foreground. Also in the 3D version of Caravaggio’s work, by touching that figure it can be guessed it is “more into relief” in respect to Christ, but only its shape, contours and volume will be recognizable, with no details felt at touch (with the exception of those in the lower left corner, which are, in fact, illuminated).
Art’s Evolution From the Dawn of Time to the Future
Ever since our ancestors in the Paleolithic depicted hunting scenes with the first cave paintings, art began to take shape. And with it, the artist’s creativity, capable of conveying his or her emotions, feelings and beliefs in a painting, an artifact, or in a sculpture.
Such a noble form of expression cannot and must not be a product only for the few.
It must include, not exclude.
And, if over the course of centuries art has been refined and museums, exhibitions and galleries have (luckily) flourished, we often take it for granted that everyone can approach a work of art and enjoy the details, the nuances and grasp the meaning of what is born from an artist’s hand.
However, access to certain kinds of art, namely paintings and drawings, is constantly denied to a specific group of people: the blind.
Therefore, artificial marginalization cannot be added to the misfortune of suffering from a physical impairment.
That is why we seized this terrific opportunity offered by the city of Monza of admiring and appreciating a masterpiece made by Caravaggio to fine-tune our product: a 3D-printed painting.
We have examined the Flagellation of Christ, we have carefully studied it and we modeled it ‘by hand’, resorting to the best digital technologies. And so we tried our best to render the depth of this piece of art to ensure that the blind person, using only the sense of touch, could feel every detail, including the shadow effects that have made Caravaggio so famous.
Regarding the details in the shadows, these are deliberately less marked to convey to the blind person the same sensations felt by a sighted person, whose eyes, in the absence of light, see less-defined shapes. In the same way, the surfaces of the areas of the painting that are invested with light are perceived as clear and distinct to the touch.
To make this product that enables the visually impaired to see with their hands a work of art, we used CJP (ColorJet Printing) technology, through which you can mold objects out of coloured gypsum powder.
The exhibition of the Flagellation of Christ at the Reggia di Monza, we are certain, will be a milestone in the spreading of the art and painting in particular. All thanks to 3D printing and cutting-edge technologies capable of freeing centuries of creativity from human limits.
It is the opening of Pandora’s box, but what comes out of the box is not evil spirits, rather, are the virtues of culture and knowledge, now more accessible than ever to everyone.