Mar 30, 2016

A formative influence in Baroque art, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio defined his style by playing with strong contrasts between light and dark, often casting his otherwise realistic paintings in layers of heavy shadow broken by blinding shafts of light. These visual cues are about more than just drawing attention to a particular subject. Rather, they reveal intense emotion, conflict, or even violence—in short, the themes that make a work of art more than just paint on canvas.

When contemplating such paintings, it can be easy to take these visual cues for granted, however for the visually impaired, these details, nuances, and meanings can be entirely lost.

Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ

Seeking to make knowledge and culture accessible to all, Italian 3D printing company MonzaMakers has launched the MakersForArt initiative. Their goal is to remove the physical barriers that make certain aspects of culture inaccessible to the visually impaired, and they have begun by 3D printing a tactile version of Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ in such a way that the blind can not only touch the different shapes and figures, but effectively feel the difference between light and darkness itself.

It is a daunting project, since a shadow is not something we feel, but something we must see. And yet, to remove the shadows from Caravaggio’s work by simply recreating the painting as a standard relief would be to remove its most essential element.

In order for the visually impaired to fully grasp and understand Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ, among other works of art, MonzaMakers set out to find a way to represent light and dark in a truly tactile way.

The team of 3D designers began by carefully studying the original work of art, which is normally housed in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples, but is temporarily on exhibit at the Reggia di Monza.They soon realized that what differentiates light from dark—on canvas, at least—is the level of detail and clarity that can be perceived by the naked eye.

To tailor that realization to our sense of touch, the designers created a 3D relief model of the painting that was as true to the original as possible, yet with the shadowed areas deliberately less detailed in order to convey “the same sensations felt by a sighted person, whose eyes, in the absence of light, see less defined shapes.”

For example, the column to which Christ is tied is hardly visible in the painting itself. Thus, when recreating the tactile 3D model, the MonzaMakers team put less emphasis on that area, so that it is barely perceivable by touch. Christ’s right leg, which is famously bent behind his left, is also physically understated in the 3D printed version. At the same time, his shoulder, torso, and the side of his face, which are enshrined in light, are highly detailed and protrude from the physical model.

Once the 3D model was finished, the team applied a high-resolution, full color scan of the original artwork to the model. “This step was necessary for us to be able to print Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ in 3D with CJP (ColorJet Printing) technology,” said the makers.

ColorJet Printing is a 3D printing method in which gypsum powder is ‘painted’, one layer at a time, during the additive manufacturing process, resulting in photorealistic, full color 3D prints. “This was purely intended to simply make the 3D work more appealing also for the sighted that may have the chance to look at it and touch it,” they explained.

The final result is a stunning 3D printed recreation of Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ that captures the artists’ signature use of light and shadow in a deeply physical way.

Interestingly, the MonzaMakers team noted that Caravaggio’s original use of light and dark—also known as Chiaroscuro—is itself a way to create the illusion of three-dimensional volume. “It is remarkable how the works of Caravaggio are so well-suited to being made in ​​3D,” they said. “Caravaggio’s distinctive lighting [confers] a sense of volume to the bodies, which seem to ‘come out’ of the scene. Thanks to 3D printing, they don’t just ‘seem’ but they do really come out” –now, equally so for the sighted and the visually impaired.

The 3D printed Flagellation of the Christ is currently on display at the Reggia di Monza (Royal Villa of Monza), right below the original 17th century masterpiece. “The exhibition of the Flagellation of Christ at the Reggia di Monza, we are certain, will be a milestone in the spreading of the art and painting in particular,” said the MonzaMakers team.

“Such a noble form of expression cannot and must not be a product only for the few. It must include, not exclude,” they continued. Thanks to 3D printing, cutting-edge technologies, and the MakersforArtinitiative, “the virtues of culture and knowledge are now more accessible than ever”.

The 3D printed Caravaggio artwork is the first undertaking in the MakersforArt project. 3D printing is, however, playing an increasingly important role in improving the quality of life of the blind and visually impaired. Previously, we have covered the Unseen Art project, 3D printed tactile maps, and 3D printed fixtures that accommodate blind employees.




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