Reynolds 3D Printed

September 29 2020

Image of Reynolds 3D Printed

Picture: Factum Foundation

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

This story is a few years old now, but one that might be of interest to readers of AHN. In 2018 Strawberry Hill House, former home of Sir Horace Walpole, commissioned Factum Foundation to create a replica of Joshua Reynolds's The Ladies Waldegrave. The original painting was sold, like much of Walpole's collection, in the nineteenth century thus leaving his neo-gothic house rather empty.

The National Gallery of Scotland's original was scanned and photographed, including the frame, ready to produce a 3D copy that has been put on display in the house. The process can be followed here in a blog produced by the Factum Foundation. This ambitious project was funded in part by the World Monuments Fund.

The scanners have even been able to capture the complex craquelure found in the picture, a hallmark of Reynolds's experimental practise with paints. The overall impression from photographs of the copy is very impressive, although I must reserve judgement as I haven't seen the copy in person.


It seems likely that 3D copies of artworks is a subject that will become increasingly popular over the next few decades. There are always voices to be found in corners of society calling for paintings to be sold from museums to fund XYZ and replaced with 3D copies. 'No one will be able to tell the difference', they often say.

Of course, it is wonderful that ancient artworks and buildings can be scanned with minute details recorded to allow us to understand them better. But in the act of creation, it feels like something of a deception to go to extraordinary lengths to mislead the eye. Copies of old masters in previous centuries, and casts of sculpture for that matter, didn't make the same claims that these print outs seem to be demonstrating.

In the case of Strawberry Hill House, there is a strong argument to recreate Walpole's aesthetic vision. He never intended anyone to see his rooms empty, so why not recreate the 'look' with reproductions? In such a case, the objects matter less individually one might argue.

To my mind, at least, part of the magic of looking at a painting by an old master is that you are there with the artist. You are there conversing with an object created by a human hand. It may be an amusing novelty to watch and listen to a robot play a Beethoven Sonata on a piano, but is it really the spiritual equivalent to watching a human hand do the same?

Here's Bendor's take on the subject made on this blog in 2017.

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