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18th century drawings brought to life with 3D printing

Furniture and other objects designed by 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi have been given form thanks to 3D printing.

Factum Arte

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) worked primarily in the medium of etching, and became famous for his highly detailed and beautiful pictures of Rome and his Escher-like imaginary prisons --but he seemed to be a man who never stopped drawing, sketching everything from coffee pots to chandeliers.

It is these designs for the home that are the basis for a project by artistic digital mediation company Factum Arte, for an exhibition of Piranesi's work at London's Soane Museum. Called Diverse Maniere: Piranesi, Fantasy and Excess, the exhibition, according to the museum, focuses on Piranesi's work in the decorative arts: "meticulous three dimensional reproductions of the objects, such as coffee pots, chairs, chimneypieces and antique candelabra, tripods and altars imagined by Piranesi in such publications as Diverse Maniere or Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, but never actually realised physically."

Madrid-based Factum Arte has worked with other museums in the past on various conservation projects, but the Piranesi project is a little different: rather than scanning objects to create a digital 3D model, the company had to create a new 3D model based on 2D drawings.

The entire collection created by Factum Arte consists of eight pieces: a coffee pot; a tripod featuring the Egyptian goddess Isis; a tripod with a helix hanging in the centre; a mantel and fire grate; an altar font; a giant, 220cm (7.2ft) tall candelabrum; a pot-bellied vase mounted with griffin heads; and an ornate golden chair with satyrs.

Although the final items were produced in precious materials and stone -- the coffee pot, for example, was eventually cast in silver -- 3D printing played an integral part. After each object was painstakingly modelled by the team, a prototype was 3D printed in order to test the construction and structural integrity of the piece.

Each was then finished in its own way, cast in metal or carved in stone, or both -- the tripods, for example, have alabaster tops. You can read more about the intricate process for each object on the Factum Arte website.

Factum Arte