Story | Scan The World

The Digital Cast Courts

09 July, 2019

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On the 1st December 2018, The Victoria and Albert Museum’s prestigious Cast Courts were reopened to the public. A new central corridor, ‘The Interpretation Gallery’, explores the art of copying and its techniques past, present and future, with two 3D printed objects from Scan the World’s own collection of copies placed on permanent display.

There are very few places in the world that can compare to The Cast Courts. Home to facsimiles of Trajan’s Column and Michelangelo’s David it is a testament to the triumph of Victorian manufacture and democratised knowledge, its origins stemming from a partnership between ruling families across Europe. Coined by the museum’s founding director Henry Cole, the partnership’s resulting convention drawn up in 1867 promoted the sharing of reproductions of artworks around the world to further encourage the dissemination of accessibility and research.

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Scan the World’s Digital Cast Courts can be interpreted as the 21st Century’s response to the galleries. The project echoes Henry Cole’s drive for accessibility as well as the convention’s core ideologies of open knowledge, bringing together a global community of enthusiasts, art lovers and academics alike. The democratised, crowd-sourced archive is built to be contributed to and accessed by anyone around the world, all in the wider context of a meaningful contribution to education, accessibility and increased cultural identity in an ever-growing digital landscape.

“The knowledge of (…) monuments is necessary to the progress of art, and the reproductions of them would be of a high value to all museums for public instruction.”

— Convention for promoting universally reproductions of works of art for the benefit of museums of all countries, 1867.

Choosing two objects from Scan the World’s collection of over 14,000 artefacts was not easy, so it was decided that we would display facsimiles of sculptures which are also in The V&A as well as to highlight two common types of digitisation.

bearded man and bust of a woman

Some of the first objects added to Scan the World originate from 3D data captured by myself and a couple of friends without the permission of The V&A. Using our smartphones we digitised over 150 sculptures, implementing a process called Photogrammetry. Andrea dell’Aquila’s Bust of a Young Woman (A.23–2018) was the first object we digitised using this method created in one of our early ‘Scanathons’.

The second object, a copy of Augustin Pajou’s Head of a Bearded Old Man (A.22–2018), was digitised using a structured light scanner after we were invited by the museum to undertake some scanning of the collection in the context of educational workshops.

The two objects are freely available to download from Scan the World, which serves as an important step in encouraging cultural institutions to openly share their digitised collections, as well as 3D models of cultural artefacts, online. There is still a long way to go for national museums to officially open their collections online, so in the meantime Scan the World has been doing it for them.

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In 2016 The Victoria and Albert Museum launched ReACH, a global initiative for the Reproduction of Art and Heritage, more can be read about this here. What this means in the longterm is yet to be seen.

The inclusion of 3D printed facsimiles in the Cast Courts highlight the importance and relevance digital technologies have in the age of reproduction, standing as a modern alternative to traditional techniques of casting.

In the case of Scan the World, the democratised ability to allow anyone to make a copy of an artefact without the need of a foundry or traditional skills allows for anyone to connect with art. We’re mature enough to know that digital technologies won’t replace the original techniques, but what can it mean for the future of appreciating and engaging with culture when it’s freely available to copy and consume?

The new Interpretation Gallery can be found between rooms 46a and 46b. The two busts exhibited are available to download, alongside over 200 other objects in The Victoria and Albert Museum’s 3D printable collection, on MyMiniFactory.

  1. Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  2. Convention for promoting universally reproductions of works of art for the benefit of museums of all countries, 1867–1868. V&A MSL/1921/1153.
  3. Bust of a Bearded Old Man (after Pajou) — Scan the World — CC-BY-NC
  4. Bust of a Young Woman (after Dell’Acquila) — Scan the World — CC-BY-NC
  5. 2014 Scanathon at The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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