You wouldn’t think that there would be an issue with artifacts, artwork or decorations going missing from a church, but sadly theft is an all too common experience. For most Christian and Catholic denominations, a church is supposed to be open and available as often as possible, so there isn’t always someone there to monitor every visitor who comes in. Whether motivated by greed, anger, desperation or just vandalism, church workers will regularly find things in their chapels either missing or broken. And while that may not be a serious problem for newer churches, in Europe where churches and cathedrals are often several hundred years old, many of the smaller objects on display are just as old, and can be virtually priceless.
In order to prevent many of their several-hundred-year-old artifacts from going missing, being damaged or simply deteriorating due to age, a small church in Luxembourg is looking to 3D scanning and 3D printing technology to prevent that from happening. The church has three ancient wooden statues on display that are unique and completely irreplaceable. In order to prevent any harm from coming to them, the church decided to create some exact duplicates of them that can be safely displayed, while the originals can be stored away for safekeeping. That way, while losing or damaging the detailed duplicates will still be costly, the originals will not be lost and the church can always have new recreations made.
The church turned to the famed Musée national d’histroire et d’art, or in English the National Museum of History and Art (MNHA), for help in making the detailed reproductions. The Luxembourg City-based museum is dedicated to preserving artworks and artefacts from all eras of Luxembourg history, including artifacts from the Roman empire that were found in the region. Once the staff at the museum got to work they immediately ran into a major complication with the project. Because of the advanced age of the statues, there was simply no way that they could be used to make a silicon mold or cast without risking destroying them.
The museum staff decided to turn to a local 3D printing and design services bureau for a solution. 3DPrint.lu and its operator Henri Colbach decided that the safest course of action was to 3D scan the statues and then 3D print exact replicas. The 3D printed versions could then be painted to match the originals exactly. Colbach started by removing some of the smaller, detachable details on the statues to use as a proof of concept. Once the 3D scan process recreated the small components as a 3D printable file, he test printed them in several materials until he found one that best suited the project. The small parts were examined for precision, accuracy and then to make sure that they could be accurately painted.
The 3D printable statues required between twenty to thirty individual 3D scans to accurately duplicate the originals in both size and detail. Of the three statues, two of them were able to be printed using durable nylon filament capable of recreating the fine details. Unfortunately the third statue was taller than the maximum build height of 65 cm (25 inches) so Colbach 3D printed it in a stereolithographic resin material. As you can see from the pictures that he uploaded to his blog, Colbach’s results speak for themselves, and the recreations are virtually identical to the originals.
Now that the MNHA staff is happy with the final printed statues they will be taking over the project from Colbach. The plan is to hand the 3D printed versions of the statues over to their restoration experts to duplicate the original colors and painting from the real statues.