How 3D Printing Kindled A Love For Baroque Sculpture

I originally got a 3D printer in order to indulge a love of architecture. A year ago I wrote about my baby steps with my printer, and after that got busy printing off whatever buildings I could find.

After a few underwhelming prints of whatever buildings I could find, I stumbled on a site called ‘Scan the World’, which contains scans of all sorts of famous artefacts.

Pretty soon I was hooked.

Laocoön and His Sons

The first one I printed was Laocoön and His Sons, and I was even more blown away than I was when I saw it in the Vatican nearly 30 years ago.

While it’s not perfect (my print washing game isn’t quite there yet), what was striking to me was the level of detail the print managed to capture. The curls, the ripples of flesh and muscle, the fingers, they’re all there.

More than this, nothing quite beats being able to look at it close up in your own home. Previously I’d ready art history books and not been terribly impressed or interested in the sculpture I’d looked at pictures of and read about.

This encouraged me to look into the history of this piece, and it turned out to be far more interesting than I’d ever expected.

The sculptor is unknown. It was unearthed in a vineyard in 1506 in several pieces, and the Pope got wind of it, getting an architect and his mate to give it a once-over. His mate was called Michelangelo, and it soon ended up in the Vatican.

It was later nicked by the French in 1798, and returned to the Vatican 19 years later after Napoleon’s Waterloo.

It blows my mind that this sculpture was talked about by Pliny the Elder, carved by Greeks (probably), then left to the worms for a millennium, then dug up and reconstructed. I’m not even sure that historians are sure that the one in the Vatican now was the ‘original’, or whether it was itself a copy of another statue, maybe even in bronze.

Farnese Bull

The next one I printed has a similar history to Laocoön and His Sons. It was dug up during excavations from a Roman bath. Henry Peacham in ‘The Complete Gentleman’ (1634) said that it “outstrippeth all other statues in the world for greatness and workmanship”. Hard to argue with that.

La Pieta

Before Michelangelo had a look at the Laocoön, he carved this statue of the dead Jesus with his mother from a single block of marble. It’s not my favourite, but I couldn’t not print it. It’s worth it for Mary’s expression alone.

Aside from being one of the most famous sculptures ever carved, this sculpture has the distinction of being one of the few works Michelangelo ever signed, apparently because he was pissed off that people thought a rival had done it.

Apollo and Daphne

Then I moved onto the sculptor I have grown to love the most: Bernini. The master.

When I printed this one, I couldn’t stop looking at it for days.

The story behind it makes sense of the foliage: consumed by love (or lust) Apollo is chasing after Daphne, who, not wanting to be pursued because of some magical Greek-mythical reason, prays to be made ugly or for her body to change. So she becomes a tree while she runs. Apollo continues to love the tree.

Amazed by that one, I did another Bernini.

Bernini’s David

I have to call this one “Bernini’s David” to distinguish it from Michelangelo’s which seems to have the monopoly on the name in sculpture terms.

I don’t know why, though, Bernini’s David is almost as breathtaking as Apollo and Daphne. Although – like Michelangelo’s David – the figure is somewhat idealised, this David feels different: A living, breathing, fighter about to unleash his weapon rather than a beautiful boy in repose. Look at how his body is twisted, and his feet are even partially off the base.

My Own Gallery

What excites me about this 3d printing lark is the democratisation of art collection. Twenty years ago the closest I could get to these works was either by going on holiday, traipsing to central London to see copies, or looking at them in (not cheap) books at home.

Now, I can have my own art collection wherever I want, and if they get damaged, I can just print some more off.


If you enjoyed this, then please consider buying me a coffee to encourage me to do more.

3 thoughts on “How 3D Printing Kindled A Love For Baroque Sculpture

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