YCBA Pope Bust Scanning Project

Bust of Alexander Pope. Courtesy of a private collection.

Bust of Alexander Pope. Courtesy of a private collection.

The Yale Digital Collections Center (YDC2) Imaging Lab and the Department of Computer Science have recently participated on a digitization project at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA). Four busts sculpted by Louis-François Roubiliac portraying Alexander Pope were selected as candidates for 3D laser scanning. These busts, from international institutions, were digitally acquired via triangulation laser scanner during the installation of the new exhibit, Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac, and the Portrait Bust in Eighteenth-­Century Britain.

A major motivation behind the exhibition amassing Roubiliac’s eight sculptural representations of Alexander Pope is a technical art history project that YCBA hopes will shed light on the creative process of 18th century sculptors. Scholars of Roubiliac’s sculptures and Pope portraiture have long asserted a hypothesis as to the order in which the eight busts were created, but questions remain as to the validity of this chronology and the relative roles the busts have played in Roubiliac’s praxis. YCBA has elected to place methods of digitization in the framework of this project in order to obtain detailed information about the surface geometry of Roubiliac’s busts. They hope to be able to determine how the dimensions of Pope’s features and placement of tool markings differ between the busts.

The application of 3D laser scanning will yield detailed digital replicas, which may be overlaid and compared for correspondence studies. The 3D models also extend blank canvases upon which technical imagery can be projected. The chosen method of digitization enables researchers to interact with, analyze and experience the busts in innovative ways that will impel new findings related to 18th century sculpture. 3D digitization gives the gathering of the busts a greater sense of permanence, as they will soon be returning to their respective museums. The project has been likened to creating a ‘digital repository’ that can be accessed, studied and disseminated well into the future.

This project is being carried out with oversight from Martina Droth, Head of Research at YCBA and Anne Gunnison, Objects Conservator at Yale Art Gallery and help from Jessica Slawski, Coordinator of the YDC2 Imaging Lab. Chelsea Graham, Digital Imaging Specialist from YDC2 and Ying Yang, a Postdoctoral Fellow from Computer Science undertook the scanning process at YCBA, manually positioning the scanner, rotating the bust on a turntable and conducting the scanner’s computer software. The bust was rotated approximately 45 degrees between each scan. Eight scans were taken per round. Approximately 40 scans were taken for each bust. Each scan yields a cloud of points, which must be aligned and merged in order to create a 3D model. During the acquisition process, Ruggero Pintus, a Postdoctoral Fellow from Computer Science, worked remotely to create a coarse alignment in order to detect if there were any holes in the points clouds and determine which areas needed further scanning in order to capture missing geometry. When necessary, additional scans were taken to acquire the missing points. Post processing of the digital data is to follow, including cleaning, fine alignments, and reconstructions.

For more information about this project, please see The many faces of Alexander Pope: Illuminating art history through digital imaging.