Technologies developed in the health sector for the production of personalized medical devices can be effectively transferred to the cultural heritage sector. This has been demonstrated by a project carried out by researchers at the Institute of Crystallography of the National Research Council (IC-CNR) who used reverse engineering and 3D printing techniques – designed for biomedicine – to produce copies of finger fragment of the Colossus of Constantine, which, in bronze, is on display at the Musei Capitolini in Rome. The 3D replicas integrate the plaster casts of the remains of the impressive Roman bronze sculpture that were made in the last century and are preserved at the Museo della Civiltà Romana.
Until 2018 the hand on view at the Musei Capitolini had a missing phalanx. In that year, the piece was recomposed with a bronze finger fragment preserved in the Louvre which was revealed to be the index finger of the Colossus. Once the original fragments were reconstructed, it was necessary to integrate the plaster casts kept at the Museo della Civiltà Romana. Therefore, in 2022 an agreement was signed between the CNR and Sovrintendenza Capitolina providing for the transfer of methods used in the clinical field to the study and preservation of cultural heritage.
“The fiberglass copy of the finger, donated to the Sovrintendente, was scanned by researchers at the University of Warwick,” explained Fabrizio Clemente, IC-CNR in Naples, responsible for the agreement. “Subsequently, thanks to the sponsorship from Fondazione Santobono Pausilipon, several copies of the 40 cm-long fragment were created at the Institute of Crystallography in Naples using FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printing in PLA (polylactic acid) which restorers from Zetema – a municipal company owned by Roma Capitale operating in the field of cultural heritage – made compatible with the two plaster casts kept in the Museo della Civiltà Romana,” the researcher concluded. A first 3D copy was assembled to the plaster reproduction of the Colossus of Constantine which was on display as part of an exhibition in Warsaw until October 2023. A second one was mounted on the bronze-coloured plaster reproduction of the statue on view in Tokyo until 10 December 2023 and then in Fukuoka.