3D scanning Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker

A 3D scan of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker

Direct Dimensions’ 3D scan of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in The Baltimore Museum of Art collection

The BMA has one of only 21 authorized “heroic” sized casts of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in the world, and in June this year, we partnered with Maryland-based Direct Dimensions, Inc. – a leader in 3D scanning technology – to do a 3D scan of the sculpture.

The move is part of the BMA’s initiative to increase its use of 3D scanning in the digitization of its collection. We were inspired to see how utilizing 3D scanning technologies might allow us to see The Thinker differently, and to discover what other people might be able to do with such scans if they were made available to scholars and the public via the Internet.

Museums are beginning to embrace the possibilities for digital scanning for multiple purposes, and the BMA has previously partnered with Direct Dimensions to scan works for scholarly research.  In 2004, Direct Dimensions was engaged to scan two separate castings of Antoine-Louis Barye’s Walking Tiger. By scanning the two tigers and overlaying the resulting 3D models, the BMA was able to dimensionally inspect and compare the two castings.

The Museum again worked with Direct Dimensions in 2007 and 2008, in support of the exhibition Matisse: Painter as Sculptor, which featured more than 160 sculptures, along with paintings and drawings from the artist. BMA curators were interested in utilizing the scanning technology to discover more about Matisse’s creative process as a sculptor. Their analysis of the scans led to the discovery that bronze casts of the same edition had considerable differences in their methods of construction, patination, finishing, and size, contributing to knowledge about how Matisse created various casts.

These kinds of scholarly and conservation-driven research projects offer some of the most tantalizing outcomes for 3D scanning and printing in museums today. For instance, conservators can use deviation analysis of 3D data to compare the condition of a collection item against a past state, or curators can use the technology to learn more about the techniques of artists, as the BMA did with the Matisse sculptures.

The addition of affordable 3D printing to the available technologies has expanded the possibilities for how such scans can be used. The Brooklyn Museum, for example, has scanned Randolph Rogers’s The Lost Pleiad to experiment with replicating a 19th-century statue with 21st century technology. The Museum has used this sculpture as an in-Gallery teaching tool. Similarly, the Semitic Museum has used 3D printing in the reconstruction of a Nuzi lion. A damaged version of Rodin’s The Thinker has even been scanned before, to enable repairs to the sculpture after thieves broke into the Singer Laren Museum and damaged the original.

The BMA’s The Thinker – a 6-foot, 6-inch sculpture – was presented to the museum in 1930 by Jacob Epstein, a collector and member of the first Board of Trustees, and displayed in front of the entrance to the John Russell Pope building until 1971 when it was moved inside for conservation.  Though originally intended to represent the poet Dante, The Thinker has become a symbol for thinkers and creators around the world.

We have plans to offer our scan of The Thinker to the world, by putting it into the public domain along with the nearly 9,000 images and related information about objects in the BMA’s collection that are already available on our website. This will be the first time we’ve made available a 3D scan of a BMA object, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it might be used by scholars and the public all over the world.

What do you think? How might you use a 3D scan of The Thinker? What would you like to see us do with this scan?

To find out more about 3D scanning, join us this weekend at Artscape, where we’ll be joined by Direct Dimensions for activities inspired by The Thinker.

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7 thoughts on “3D scanning Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker

  1. Pingback: What are your big thoughts for the BMA in its next 100 years? | BMA Blog

  2. Rob Brulinski

    Rather than just scanning in previous work, put the 3d scanning hardware/software into the hands of artists to create something new.

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  6. Rachel

    As one of the people who used that Brooklyn Museum 3D print as an in-gallery teaching tool, I'd love to know how you decide to use 3D fabricated objects as you go forward. I've got mixed thoughts on the effectiveness of the Lost Pleiad print in the way we used it (which I'm happy to chat about more if you like), and I'm intrigued to see what others are doing.

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  7. Desi Gonzalez

    I'd be intrigued to see how the scans of the other 20 Thinkers around the world would turn out. (In theory, they should all be the same, but I'd love to see what discrepancies arise.)

    An interesting thing about the BMA's Thinker is that it, too, is a replica of itself. Now, instead of using a mold to cast various sculptures, we can use a digital file to render the sculpture.

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