Expo 2020 Dubai: life-size replica of Michelangelo’s 'David' completes a 6,000km journey from Florence to the UAE

Meticulous operation to build and transport digital twin sculpture from Florence to Dubai

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A 3D copy of Michelangelo's David, one of the world's most famous marble sculptures, reached Dubai and will be fitted in the Italian pavilion at the Expo site on Thursday.

It took months of precise planning and painstaking work by artists, architects and tech experts to recreate a digital version of the Renaissance masterpiece that draws millions of visitors to the Academy Gallery in Florence.

Large crates carrying the 450kg model and the 150kg podium on which it will stand were transported in a cargo plane from Italy that landed in Dubai on Tuesday.

The team behind the project told The National about the exhaustive research and 40 hours in January it took to scan the original in the museum.

'The most accurate' digital copy of famous masterpiece yet produced

450kg replica of Michelangelo's 'David' arrives in UAE for Dubai Expo

450kg replica of Michelangelo's 'David' arrives in UAE for Dubai Expo

"We wanted to capture not just the form but also to reproduce the texture," Grazia Tucci, associate professor in geomatics at the University of Florence, told The National.

"At the beginning I was a little bit scared because Michelangelo's David is one of the most important masterpieces in the history of art. It represents the victory of good over evil and has such symbolic value.

“It is probably the most reproduced icon all over the world so the accuracy and quality of this piece was really important to me.”

Prof Tucci described it as "the most accurate digital copy of David" because of the lengths the team went to capture the 16th-century sculpture.

Because of the shutdown of public spaces in Italy to stem the spread of coronavirus, digital experts were able to spend two weeks in an empty museum without crowds milling around.

Laser scanners normally used in the industrial sector for the highest resolution were mounted on a specially-built tripod to photograph and measure each section of the towering statue.

Tech experts climbed scaffolding and ladders to reach the highest portions of the statue and photograph all the details.

“We had to move the scanners with the tripod close to all the surfaces so we could have all the detail in the digital file that would be used as input for the 3D printer,” she said.

“The most difficult were the veins, hair curls, fingers, hands and feet.”

No stone unturned in search for perfection 

The scans took measurements of more than 100,000 points of the statue's surface.

These were combined to produce a digital twin of David over three weeks of 3D printing.

It then took artists two months for the aging process when they manually reconstructed the rough and smooth curves of the sculpture.

Restorers in Florence covered the acrylic resin model with layers of marble powder mixed with glue to mirror chisel marks, cracks and erosion.

“This was the most demanding because it was done by hand to make it really look like marble with its defects and similar to the original,” Prof Tucci said.

Paola Carniglia, sales director of OTIM, the freight forwarders who handled the transport, said the model was among the most unusual parcels the company has handled.

Plastic-based blocks anchored the head, chest, hands and legs to secure the statue inside the crate.

The piece was lifted by crane into a truck and out of the historical centre of Florence.

“The statue is fragile so we had to be very careful and listen to every single creak and sound to understand if something wrong was going on inside,” she said.

Stunning centrepiece of Italy pavilion set to make a big impression

A team checks a model of Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture in the narrow streets of Florence before loading it on to a truck to be transported via cargo plane to the Dubai Expo. Courtesy: OTIM
A team checks a model of Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture in the narrow streets of Florence before loading it on to a truck to be transported via cargo plane to the Dubai Expo. Courtesy: OTIM

“Moving it from a vertical position to laying it down was the most difficult.

“It is a very large piece so we had to make sure it was anchored and did not move. The streets of Florence are narrow so we worked at night."

The statue will take eight hours to set up inside the Italian pavilion at the Expo Dubai South site on Thursday morning.

Metal brackets are ready to hold the 1.8-metre podium on which the 5.2-metre statue will be placed.

Isabella Colangelo, an architect with Dubai’s A2Z architectural engineering company, is on site to co-ordinate with the design and installation teams.

“It will be a milli-metric operation But we have prepared everything to welcome this piece of Italian culture in Dubai,” she said.

A portion of the pavilion along with the statue will be unveiled next week.

When the Expo opens in October, visitors will enter at ground level where they can look up at the statue and also view it from the first floor exhibition area.

The aim of the pavilion is to merge history with the technology of the future.

The exhibition space will display sustainability solutions and connect entrepreneurs, business and academicians.

Grand vision for Expo 2020 Dubai takes shape as October opening draws near