Around the World in 80 Models: Rome, part I

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Hop on board as we continue our journey Around the World in 80 Models! We began our itinerary at Sketchfab headquarters in New York and are working our way through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, and North America. To catch up on past destinations, check out the rest of the Around the World in 80 Models series.

This week we travel to Rome, where Sketchfab Master Matthew Brennan tells us about a Roman sculpture and a Renaissance chapel.

Rome, Italy: The Dying Gaul

My name is Matthew Brennan, and I’m an instructor and PhD candidate in the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. I got started in 3D scanning by way of 3D modeling in general – I studied architectural design and so was familiar with 3d visualization and architectural modeling. In working on the Digital Hadrian’s Villa project, we were presented with the difficulty of populating an Ancient Roman villa reconstruction with appropriate artwork and sculpture. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to visit the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Massimo, and a number of other museums in Italy to digitize their collections and create 3D models with their permission. I started out using structured light scanners and laser scanners, but have moved exclusively to photo-modeling.

For photomodeling, I typically use either a Nikon D810 DSLR or a Sony mirrorless camera, with prime, wide-angle lenses. Agisoft’s PhotoScan is a fantastic piece of software, and it’s what I use almost exclusively. My processing is done on either a Dell precision tower or a Dell laptop, with at least 64 GB of RAM and a nVidia GPU.

I almost always shoot handheld and without any special setup. Many of the pieces I’m asked to shoot are large marble sculpture that can’t be moved and which are in galleries sensitive to light… I’ve learned to photograph under harsh circumstances: dim lighting, no tripods, and sometimes balancing on a ladder.

The two models here represent the breadth of objects and environments I typically deal with: a single marble sculpture, the Dying Gaul, and a complete architectural interior, the Altemps Chapel. These are both in Rome, Italy. The Dying Gaul is in the Capitoline Museums, and the Altemps Chapel is a large chapel in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The so-called “Dying Gaul” is an Ancient Roman marble sculpture of a wounded Galatian. The sculpture as it exists today has been heavily polished and subjected to restorations, and more than a thousand years in soil and earth have worn away any traces of the polychromatic paint that likely once added life to the stone. The white marble sculpture depicts a dying Celt: he braces himself with one arm, and bleeds from a wound on his side. His sword and shield lay beside him.

As is the case with many Roman marble sculptures, art historians typically brand the masterpieces “copies after a lost Greek bronze original”. The Dying Gaul is thought to be a copy of an original commissioned in the 200’s BC to commemorate a Greek victory over the Galatians. However, when it was originally discovered in the early 1600’s in Rome, the Dying Gaul was thought to represent a wounded gladiator. The Gaul is currently in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, but spent some time at the Louvre in Paris, taken there by Napoleon’s forces in 1797, where it was displayed until being returned to Italy in 1816.

One of the fantastic things about 3D models of ancient art is that we can experiment with restorations, de-restorations (taking away fanciful or incorrect additions and supplementations by earlier artists and restorers), and reconstructions – particularly of the lost paint that once decorated almost all ancient sculpture. We can also place the pieces back into their architectural context (as in the Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project). These are things that would require enormous expense and effort to perform on the original piece, or even a cast of the original, but when done by means of an accurate 3D model, allow a much greater degree of experimentation, as well as the ability to test and represent a variety of hypotheses.

Rome, Italy: The Altemps Chapel

The Altemps Chapel is a large chapel to the left of the High Altar in Santa Maria in Trastevere, a basilica in the Trastevere district of Rome, Italy. A 3D model of the ceiling and apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere can be seen here. The chapel was commissioned by Cardinal Altemps and completed in 1587. The two paintings on the side walls are by Pasquale Cati, a follower of Michelangelo, and depict the Council of Trent and Pope Pius promulgating the bull “Benedictus Deus”, both completed in 1588. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was the Catholic Church’s attempt to counter the Protestant Reformation begun in large part by Martin Luther.

The chapel itself is not particularly interesting in an architectural sense, but it was my first successful effort at completely digitizing an interior, including ceiling, walls, and floor. I think it also demonstrates the power of photo-modeling as a tool to quickly and accurately document architectural spaces.

To see more of Matthew’s models here on Sketchfab, check out his profile.

About the author

Abby & Néstor

Abby and Néstor are Sketchfab Masters.
Abby Crawford, Ph.D. is trained in and passionate about Roman Archaeology and works as a freelance artifact illustrator and 3D scanner in California.
Néstor F. Marqués is a virtual Heritage & cultural diffusion researcher, and an enthusiast of ancient Rome’s culture.


  • Ian Pretorius says:

    Fascinating scans once again. The Dying Gaul really is a bizarre concept to me, why would anyone commission such an art work. The chapel scan is great as well.

  • This is so good!
    Admirable effort! Thanks for sharing this with us.. I always wondered about photographing art that had to be stored in dim lighting. Now I know others are tackling it.

  • Matthew says:

    Hi Ian, one hypothesis is that the “dying Gaul” was part of a larger sculptural group serving as propaganda and a celebration of victory over the Galatian peoples. In that sense, it would not have been thought of so much as “Art”, but rather as monument.

  • BonnieT says:

    Hello! These are fantastic. I wish they had been available when i had a project going in the 1990s called Virtual Rome. Thank you so much for creating them now. 🙂

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