Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca

Church of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna
2019

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This Christ will never be forgotten. Was it made from earth? Was it rotting flesh? I didn’t know what the medium was […] The three Marys enraged by suffering, demented by the suffering […] Listen to me. Can you imagine the petrified scream?’
Gabriele d’Annunzio, Il secondo amante di Lucrezia Buti (1924)
A film by Óscar Parasiego and Otto Lowe for Factum Foundation

Mary Clopas (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

The sculptural group of the Compianto sul Cristo morto (Lamentation over the Dead Christ) by Niccolò dell’Arca is located in the main chapel of the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna. This dramatic depiction of sorrow and death was commissioned by the brotherhood of the Battuti Bianchi around 1463 and consists of a group of life-sized figures – the Madonna and the Three Marys, St John the Apostle and Joseph of Arimathea – weeping over the dead body of Christ, which is laid out between them ready for deposition in the tomb.

The fragility of the seven statues led Factum Foundation, in collaboration with Genus Bononiae, to record the group in December 2019 as part of the exhibition La Materialità dell’Aura. Nuove Tecnologie per la Tutela at Palazzo Fava, commissioned by Fabio Roversi Monaco.

The sculptural group of the Lamentation in its current location, within Santa Maria della Vita © Pedro Mirò for Factum Foundation

The 3D model of the whole group © Genus Bononiae

Working at night over the course of a week within the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Factum’s team used an Artec Spyder, a hand-held structured light scanner, and photogrammetry to record each of the statues. As the figures are fixed to the ground and had to be recorded in situ, this two-pronged approach was necessary to minimise the equipment required and reduce the risks associated with working in restricted spaces. Reality Capture and other specialized softwares were then used to process this data into digital models, and ZBrush was used for organic modelling in places where data was missing due to the impossibility of accessing the sculptures safely. 

Pedro Mirò recording Joseph of Arimatea using an Artec Spyder structured white light scanner © Otto Lowe for Factum Foundation

The hand-held Artec Spyder allows for better recording of shape when using photogrammetry is not possible © Otto Lowe for Factum Foundation

Otto Lowe recording the sculptures using photogrammetry © Pedro Mirò for Factum Foundation

Recording some parts of the group has proven difficult due to the fixed position of the sculptures © Pedro Mirò for Factum Foundation

While the primary aim of the recording is to provide accurate data for condition monitoring, it will also facilitate new research into the figures, particularly with regard to their original positioning. In the current display, the terracotta figures are fixed to the ground, with visitors and scholars kept at a safe distance from the group.

But now they have been reproduced in digital form, it is possible for researchers to reposition the group of mourners around Christ, moving them both in subtle and in more dramatic ways to explore the possibilities of Niccolò dell’ Arca’s work. Digital recording will thus open up new possibilities for the display of the sculptures – certainly within the virtual sphere, but perhaps even in the physical space of the sanctuary.

[R] Christ, seen from above (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

[L] Maria of Cloefa (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

Virgin Mary (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

Virgin Mary, whole figure (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

Detail of the head of the dead Christ (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

Joseph of Arimatea (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

© Genus Bononiae

John the Baptist (3D model) © Genus Bononiae

© Genus Bononiae

[R] Salomé (3D model) © Factum Foundation

A view of the 3D model from an elevated point of view - something that is not possible in the original location © Genus Bononiae

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