In a few years, anyone will have a Mona Lisa in their living room. Identical (or almost) to the original. Complete with embossed brushstrokes and age-aged paint. A copy so convincing as to leave guests speechless and to deceive even an art critic. This is the future that awaits us thanks to today’s work of Tim Zaman, a young Dutch mechanical engineer. The boy – a researcher at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands – found a way to reproduce the masterpieces of modern art using a 3D printer (660 ppi) developed by Océ, a company that is part of the Canon group. “We are still light years away from a copy that comes close, in depth and color, to the original,” says Zaman honestly, but the videos and images of his work on two paintings – Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride and Blue Vase Flowers by Van Gogh – analyzed thanks to the availability of the museums in which they are housed, would make Walter Benjamin pale, who already in the 1930s questioned the concept of authenticity of the work of art “in the era of its technical reproducibility”.
To revive Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride on a new canvas, Tim Zaman used a rather simple instrumentation: two 40 megapixel SLR cameras with a small structured light projector in the center. In practice, the “deformed” light from the surface of the painting is acquired by the two cameras, contributing at the same time to the capture of the colors and – even more importantly – of the depth of the painting. The result is a three-dimensional scan of the work of art characterized – in the case of Rembrandt’s 160×120 cm canvas – by approximately one billion points. A screen would not be enough to display this amount of information: “A billion points is 500 times higher than the maximum number of points that a Full HD screen can show” explains Zaman. Hence the idea of viewing them through a 3D print, with the printer head ready to move back and forth to overlap the ink.
“We have noticed that characteristics such as brightness and transparency, typical of each painting, are evident in the original, while we are not able to reproduce them – writes Zaman on his website – In the future we will work to replicate these too. Our primary goal, with these copies, is to understand exactly what exactly we look at in a painting, and why it looks like this. So far we have only learned that there are several elements, apart from the color and topography of a painting, which are of considerable importance and that we do not grasp “. It is undeniable, despite the noble intentions illustrated by Zaman, that the 3D printing of masterpieces of art would have a strong impact in the future not only on the market – think of the copies that could be bought in museum shops – but also on the work of those who are engaged daily in the restoration of more or less important works. On the web there are already those who indulge themselves with more or less feasible proposals: “Perfect copies would be useful to replace the originals and put them in a safe place”, writes someone, immediately corrected by another navigator: “If anything, it would be useful to have the ‘original and its copy on the same wall: one to be admired from a safe distance, the other to be observed very closely – and perhaps even touched – to better understand the artist’s technique “. Of course, there are those who do not look favorably on the new technology that jeopardizes the authenticity of the works. And who, finally, regrets for another reason: “It is a pity that Andy Wharol is no longer alive, this technique allows you to achieve everything he has always tried to do with his works. And it allows you to go even further. “.