Using 3-D prototyping as an intermediary in the reconstruction of ancient pottery

Renée Stein, Susan Blevins, Nelson Burke, Dr. David Rosen, and Andrew Layton


The Greek and Roman Art collection at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum includes a fragmentary black-figure plate attributed to the painter Lydos and a fragmentary red-figure kylix signed by the potter Euphronios and attributed to the painter Onesimos. About one half of the plate survives and all but one fragment join together. The kylix, however, remains as approximately a dozen associated fragments that cannot be joined directly. These important examples are used in teaching and should be placed in the public galleries, but require reconstruction to join the fragments, making the objects stable and the forms more legible. Three-dimensional prototypes of the original vessels were created to serve as intermediaries in the reconstruction process, facilitating molding and filling while minimizing direct handling of the ancient fragments. 3-D prototyping is widely used in industry to model examples prior to initiating costly production. It is also used to reproduce handmade forms, as for jewelry, and has been used by sculpture artists. For this conservation application, a replica of each object was produced from 3-D digital renderings, based upon measurements taken off the objects themselves. The digital files were then printed as three-dimensional volumes through the precise layering of wax, using equipment that operates much like an ink-jet printer. Silicone rubber molds were then made from the wax prototypes, avoiding the need to mold directly off the ancient fragments. The ancient fragments were then placed into the rubber molds, and the missing portions were cast in place using pigmented plaster. These plaster fills were refined and integrated through limited compensation of the images and patterns. The case study, including images and short videos, was featured in a Museum newsletter and archived on the Museum’s website, where it will be accessible for university teaching and public education.