All activities related to the conservation of a work of art begin with the recognition of its state of preservation. Its condition determines the further program of works and the scope of conservation measures. A conservator of works of art has a wide range of tools, the proper use of which, in accordance with professional doctrine, ensures the survival of the work. These tools include conservation, restoration, renovation, reconstruction, and many others, and the choice of the most appropriate one is based on evaluation, often conducted by interdisciplinary research teams. Reconstruction, which consists in recreating a work based on the preserved matter or sources, requires from the conservator special caution, historical knowledge and, above all, aesthetic sensitivity. Treatments consisting in recreating the entire artwork are extremely rare. It should be emphasized that the maintenance of ceramic artworks is one of the few specializations that use this tool in a reasonable way. Recreating historic artworks made of ceramic slips is justified due to the original technique of creating many products from one form. Due to the natural aging of gypsum molds as a result of their use, it is necessary to make multiple matrices in order to continue production. The very basis of the technique of making slip casts is the idea of duplication. Each of the casts is equivalent and carries the value of authenticity and originality. Therefore, making a plaster copy of a mold whose condition does not allow for its further use, must be reliable and free from subjective creation on the part of the conservator.

Modern techniques, including surface scanning, are useful in such cases. Various 3D scanning techniques, widely used today in the documentation of monuments and the assessment of changes occurring on their surfaces, are effectively implemented in cultural institutions. By joining forces, conservators and physicists are constantly trying to expand the use of 3D scanning techniques for the protection of cultural heritage. These tests make it possible to solve a number of problems in various areas of application, including copies of artworks created on the basis of the performed measurements. The automated process of 3D scanning enables the preparation of fully objective documentation of the surface and the creation of a reconstruction or copy that is free from interpretation. Contrary to traditional techniques which allow for copying and duplicating plaster molds, the 3D scanning technique used in the project made it possible to perform the reconstruction without interfering in the artwork.

PhD student Sunita Saha participated in the project of recreating a ceramic figure of Venus. She conducted work on scanning the plaster mold as part of the CHANGE project – Cultural Heritage Analysis for New Generations. The study used a fully functional prototype of a 3D scanner, developed by the Department of Virtual Reality Techniques at the Warsaw University of Technology. The structured light technique was used in the measurement works. It should be emphasized that the light used during scanning did not pose a threat to the historic object. It is a non-invasive alternative to traditional techniques.

The project of the ceramic reconstruction of the Venus figure is an example of interdisciplinary cooperation in the use of modern techniques in the conservation of works of art.

Anna Tomkowska
The Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw