A High-Tech Twin for a Renaissance Masterpiece

FLORENCE, Italy — For the past five centuries, Michelangelo’s David has been celebrated for its sculptural perfection and its embodiment of youthful beauty and strength.

Now, Italian officials want the sculpture to help showcase Italian craftsmanship and high-tech expertise in the digital age.

Over the next several months, a battery of Italian engineers, technicians, craftspeople and restorers will use what the project’s coordinator has described as “the most advanced technologies available today” to 3-D print an exact copy of the 17-foot statue. The replica will then be the centerpiece of the Italy Pavilion at the next world fair, Expo 2020 Dubai, which was originally scheduled to open this month but was postponed until next October because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s technology tied to historical memory, for future memory,” said Paolo Glisenti, the commissioner general for Italy at the expo. “History and innovation — those are the themes that interest us.”

“He’s my marketing department,” Cecile Hollberg, the Accademia’s director, said with a laugh. “He attracts visitors, and we steer them to all the other collections that are exceptional and splendid.”

The data will be processed and then used to create the reproduction with “the largest 3-D printer in the world,” along with “innovative materials” and resins, Ms. Tucci said, though she declined to specify what kinds of materials would be used. “We’re still in the testing stage,” she said.

The statue will then be polished — by machine and completed by hand — to achieve a smoother surface, and restorers will add the finishing touches, including coloring the copy to reflect the tonalities in the marble and “to give the work a pleasant aspect from the aesthetic point of view,” Ms. Tucci said.

The entire “making-of” the statue will be chronicled on video and shown to visitors at the expo in Dubai, Mr. Glisenti said, and the replica will be placed at the center of Italy’s multilevel pavilion so that visitors can view it from different angles and at different heights.

The process will create a treasure trove of data that technicians will turn over to the Accademia, and could prove priceless in the event that something happens to the original. That possibility caused fresh concern several years ago when Italian scientists published a paper positing that putting any stress on its already cracked ankles could topple the masterpiece.

For now, the ankles are doing fine, Ms. Hollberg said. “Everything is under control.”

The reproduction is expected to return to Italy once the expo is over, but its fate, for now, is unknown.

High-tech or not, the copy will never match the original, Ms. Holberg said. “The original has been in Florence since 1504,” she said. “A copy will never last as long.”

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