The cutting-edge technology of 3D printing is being used to restore a spectacular Meissen table fountain that is to go on public display for the first time in 150 years when the V&A’s new ‘Europe 1600-1800’ galleries open in late 2014.
The theatrical white porcelain dining
decoration - nearly four metres long - was commissioned by one of
the most extravagant characters of the age, Heinrich, Count von
Brühl, Prime Minister at the Saxon court in Dresden. It depicts
Neptune and the sea goddess Amphitrite being drawn on a
shell-chariot by hippocamps and was ordered as a 'scale model' of a
fountain built in the gardens of von Brühl's summer palace in
The British ambassador in Dresden at
the time, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, wrote about the fountain in
a dispatch from 1748: "I was once at a dinner where we sat down at
one table two hundred and six people… When the dessert was set on,
I thought it was the most wonderful thing I ever beheld. I fancyd
myself either in a garden or at the opera. But I [could] not
imagine that I was at dinner. In the middle of the table was [a]
fountain … , which ran all the while with rose-water, and 'tis said
that this piece alone cost six thousand thalers."
When the V&A acquired the fountain
in the 1870s, it was described as 'much shattered' and proved too
baffling to reconstruct.
In seeking to rebuild it, museum
curators were confronted with a puzzle made up of more than 150
white porcelain pieces in four storage cabinets. After careful
sorting, it was clear that some parts were originals, made between
1745 and 1747, some were missing, some were duplicates or later
replacements and many did not belong to the fountain at
However, a re-examination of the
collection in preparation for the new galleries and a partnership
with the Royal College of Art has enabled an ambitious 18-month
project to restore the fountain.
In order to achieve the greatest
historic accuracy, scanning technology was used to construct
accurate 3D models of broken and missing parts. On occasion when
certain sections were missing it was possible to digitally 'flip'
these images to create mirror images.
'Real' models were then created by
machine milling or, for the finer pieces requiring greater detail,
printed in resin using cutting-edge 3D printers.
A ceramic artist working at the Royal
College of Art is using these to create the missing parts in the
same way as the modellers in Meissen would have done. The
complexity of the firing and glazing meant that each model needed
to be enlarged to 115% of the size of the original pieces to
account for shrinkage.
The final reconstruction - a mix of
old and new parts - will go on display in the new Europe
1600-1800 galleries, a focal point of the gallery devoted
to city and commerce between 1720 and 1780.