The personification of various ideas such as nationhood, liberty, and justice, to name a few, often take a feminine form. One of the most potent symbols of the United States, for example, is the Statue of Liberty, standing as a woman of epic proportions in New York Harbor. In the famous painting of Liberty Leading the People, created by Eugène Delacroix in 1830 to commemorate the July revolution of that same year, Liberty is shown as a woman, striding over the bodies of the fallen, leading her people as they follow the French tri-color flag. Her bare feet and bare breast mixing the imagery of a goddess with that of a woman of the people, she has since become an internationally recognized symbol of the struggle for freedom.
Now she is getting a chance to present herself in 3D on the façade of the new town hall that has just been opened in Néoules dans le Var in the South of France. The idea was first conceived of by the mayor, André Guiol, and working with his municipal team, he was able to direct the project to completion. The municipal team paired up with Catalyss, a consulting and engineering firm specializing in helping their clients realize their visions through 3D printing, and a 3D digital model of the figure was created using the image itself and a careful understanding of sculptural form.
After the 3D model was created, it was printed at slightly over 8″ high in a polymer and then painted by a locally renowned artist. Rather than being a piece completely in the round, it is instead a high relief that was then mounted on the exterior of the new town hall. Accompanying the figure are the famous words “Liberté égalité fraternité,” the motto of the French revolution, translating to: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The simplicity of the figure as it stands against the plain forms of the building helps it to stand out and capture the viewer’s attention. However, missing from the sculpture are the bodies of the dead that acted as a platform for the radiant Lady Liberty in Delacroix’s painting.
Another way in which the sculpture differs greatly from the painting is that the the painterly technique used by Delacroix, often defined as a romantic artist, allowed him to imply details and through looser brushwork to encourage the viewer’s imagination to interact with the image’s creation, but in 3D printing, the room for “looseness” is removed and each layer is precise and complete. The result is that there is a striking difference between the sculpture and the painting, no matter how accurate it is. The dream-like atmosphere of Delacroix’s painting is lost in the 3D print and so is some of the grace and vivacity of the figure of Lady Liberty. She is contained and pinned down, rather than breathing on the edge of movement.
This shift clearly indicates that 3D printing is a medium in its own right, not simply a technique for production. The way in which the process and the materials used work is no less important to consider than when setting out to paint a picture or capture a photograph. The translation among media gives an opportunity to contemplate new ideas about an image that is already in existence, rather than just working to create a replica. This 3D print seems to have been most successful in the play of the fabrics in the flag and in the dress, possibly because the heightened relief in those areas made them more easily available to the precision of a 3D print, where as the subtlety of the impression created by brushstrokes is lost in the figure.
It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a master such as Delacroix, especially when so much of what made his genius captivating is the very mood that he expertly executed in an entirely different medium. However, the symbol of the figure of Lady Liberty is so absolutely recognizable that it will do the viewers good to be forced to look at it again as opposed to assuming based on blindness caused by familiarity. Discuss in the 3D Printed Painting forum at 3DPB.com.