Creative use of digital photography's emerging capabilities may help solve some centuries-old questions about the ill-fated work.
Originally intended as a monument for his tomb, Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta has interested historians for centuries because the four-figure sculpture does not feature the perfect proportions that are the hallmark of Michelangelo's work.
Working with Temple University professor emeritus Jack Wasserman, IBM is creating a "virtual" Pieta by stitching together over 700 digital photographs of the work and creating a 3D representation of the 2.5-meter tall statue. IBM used a special six-lens digital camera to capture the images, which were all taken from slightly different points of view.
From these, a computer algorithm application is employed to determine relative positions of the photographs and help reconstruct the image. Texture and color information is captured by a separate camera.
In addition to its academic value, the project involves significant work in the area of 3D modeling. "The volume of data that we have to handle carries the problem beyond the scope of existing techniques," said Gabriel Taubin, head of the visual and geometric computing group at IBM Research.
Project participants hope a digitized version of the Pieta will aid art historians in understanding Michelangelo's intent with the work. Meanwhile, the technique can be used in the future to create virtual models of other large objects, such as architectural structures that would otherwise be inaccessible, according to Taubin.
IBM said it intends to publish a book on the entire process in the coming year, while hoping to capture the techniques for eventual consumer applications.