Recreating the Colossus of Constantine

Fragments of the Colossus of Constantine (ca. 313 A.D.) in the courtyard of Palazzo dei Conservatori. Photo courtesy Musei Capitolini.In the entrance courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, visitors are greeted by the gigantic head, hands, forearm, shin, knee and feet of the Emperor Constantine. They are what remains of a colossal acrolithic statue of Constantine that once sat ponderously in the western apse of the Basilica Nova, the great civic building started by Maxentius in 307 A.D. and completed by Constantine after his victory over Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.

The head, arms and legs of the colossus were carved out of white marble. The body of the emperor, posed seated and enthroned, was made of a wooden framework over a brick core. The body was then bronzed, possibly gilded, in a glittering contrast to the marble extremities. The head alone is more than eight feet high. Extrapolating from the surviving fragments, the intact statue was an astonishing 40 feet high.

The statue was built between 312 and 315 A.D., with the facial features and hands reworked (there are two right hands) around 325 A.D. It was destroyed in Late Antiquity, its bronze looted and melted down, the marble parts broken and abandoned in the ruin of the basilica. The marble pieces were rediscovered in 1486 and placed in the courtyard of Palazzo dei Conservatori by Michelangelo when he was building Piazza del Campidoglio in 1536–1546.

In 2022, the Factum Foundation in collaboration with the Musei Capitolini and supported by the Fondazione Prada, embarked on a new digitization project to document the fragments and recreate a full-scale replica of the Colossus of Constantine for a new exhibition. In March of 2022, the ten fragments in the courtyard were recorded in ultra-high resolution with photogrammetry and LiDAR technology. The data was used to create a 3D model of the fragments and fill in the missing blanks.

Factum Arte experts worked with museum curators to recreate the statue’s original pose (back when it had one right hand and one left hand) and draping of the paludamentum cloak that covered the emperor’s body. Existing (much smaller) statues of emperors and gods in the same enthroned pose were used as references. By May, the team was ready to go from digital modeling to physical reconstruction.

It was decided to visually distinguish the facsimile fragments from the digitally reconstructed body and cloak.

The recorded digital data of each fragment was rematerialised as 1:1 3D prints, which were used to make positive casts in reinforced resin. The surface was coated with a custom gesso mix and painted to resemble the original marble, weathered by the exposure to the elements. The result was perfect facsimiles of the original fragments.

The recreated sections of the body were made in polyurethane, coated in several layers of resin mixed with marble powder and mica, to achieve a clean neutral marble-white colour. The cloak was made in milled polystyrene, coated with acrylic resin mixed with bronze powder, over which a distressed gold foil gilding was applied.

The final tally was 30 sections of the Colossus. They were craned into the exhibition room at the Fondazione Prada in Milan where the statue was assembled for the exhibition Recycling Beauty.

This video gives a glimpse into the digital reconstruction process.

In this video, archaeologist Darius Arya goes into detail about the history of the Colossus, its original context in the Basilica Nova and visits the recreation. It’s awe-inspiring to see the iconic fragments put back together.

Leonardo’s models take virtual flight

Google Arts & Culture, in collaboration with 28 museums, libraries and historic sites with collections of works by Leonardo da Vinci, has created an online hub dedicated to art, inventions and writings of the great Renaissance polymath. Inside a Genius Mind is the largest online retrospective of Leonardo’s works ever assembled with high-resolution scans of more than 3,000 drawings on 1,300 pages of Leonardo’s notebooks. His sketches, architectural designs, anatomical studies, weapons systems, flying machines and more, many of them never before available online, have been digitized and uploaded to the portal.

The online hub offers visitors a traditional route through Leonardo’s story. You can read his biography, examine his individual paintings in high definition with extensive annotations, and explore the notebooks. You can also find out more about his life and works by accessing the Leonardo Library, browsing categories of knowledge (architecture, anatomy), specific codices and different subjects in his sketches and types of inventions.

One of the world’s foremost experts in Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre, University of Oxford art historian Martin Kemp, has been enlisted to help curate the portal, alongside a curation team that includes a Machine Learning element. This curation team organized Leonardo’s notebooks into five themes — Secrets of Flight, Spirals, Earth as a Body, Perpetual Motion and Destruction — to allow users to move through his ideas and creative processes in the same lateral, thought-skipping way Leonardo himself used when he wrote them.

My favorite section is 10 Leonardo Inventions in 3D. Seeing models created from his notebooks has always been a highlight of museum exhibitions dedicated to Leonardo’s genius. It is sheer joy seeing his ideas and sketches converted into realistic 3D animations. The Leocopter, which the colossal bronze statue of him holds in one hand at the entrance to Fiumicino Airport in Rome, and the armoured tank both make the cut.

3D animated model of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine.

Video tour of new Largo Argentina site

Ancient Rome Live has just uploaded a great video tour of the refurbished Largo Argentina site guided by Darius Arya. The ten-minute video gives an overview of the stages of the site, highlighting each of the four Republican temples, the smattering of remains from the Curia of Pompey where Caesar was stabbed to death (albeit not actually on that spot) and the remains of medieval residential and church buildings. 

The cats get their due first, of course — priorities — and then Darius walks through of the site in a couple of different directions, highlighting the layers of Rome from different eras on view in this one archaeological park. They cut in a couple of fascinating photographs taken when the site was first excavated in the 1920s, including the exceptional discovery of the marble head of a colossal acrolithic statue. (Acroliths had wooden bodies with the head and extremities not covered by clothes made of marble or stone.) The tour ends with the newly-opened space under the current street, previously storage areas inaccessible to the public, now converted into a gembox of a museum exhibiting artifacts discovered there and explaining the site’s layered history.

Here’s something I didn’t know courtesy of Darius’ narration: the section of the Curia Pompeiana that overlapped with what would become the square in the middle of Large Argentina was destroyed in the imperial era, replaced by a public latrine. A really nice one too! Long and roomy to accommodate many a Roman call of nature at once. 

Full-size 3D reconstruction of Titanic created

The first full-sized 3D reconstruction of the wreck of Titanic has been released, showing the ship in its entirety without the distortion of the water. The view was created by stitching together more than 700,000 scans of the site taken last year by deep-sea mapping company Magellan Ltd. They used remotely operated submersibles to capture images of the ship and debris field from every angle and covering every square inch of the vast site. The scans show everything from the giant stern and bow sections to individual shoes and Champagne bottles.

Magellan’s Gerhard Seiffert, who led the planning for the expedition, said it was the largest underwater scanning project he’d ever undertaken.

“The depth of it, almost 4,000m, represents a challenge, and you have currents at the site, too – and we’re not allowed to touch anything so as not to damage the wreck,” he explained.

“And the other challenge is that you have to map every square centimetre – even uninteresting parts, like on the debris field you have to map mud, but you need this to fill in between all these interesting objects.”

The scan shows both the scale of the ship, as well as some minute details, such as the serial number on one of the propellers.


The wreck of Titanic was discovered in September 1985 2.5 miles under the surface of the frigid North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. A team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution returned to the site in July of 1986 with one manned submersible and one remotely operated vessel to film the interior and exterior of Titanic. Footage from the 1986 expedition was released for the first time earlier this year.

Since then, the wreck has been explored repeatedly by submersibles, including private adventurers, and photographed in high definition. In 2010, when a team of archaeologists and oceanographers from RMS Titanic Inc. and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution returned to map the two main sections of the ship and the full debris field. The inky darkness of the deep water required that all film and photography be narrowly focused on small areas of the wreck. In 2012, the centennial year of the sinking of Titanic, National Geographic published beautiful new pictures of the wreck, composites created by stitching together thousands of photographs, scans and sonar images from the 2010 expedition.

Video tour the restored House of the Vettii

The House of the Vettii, home to one of Pompeii’s most extraordinary assemblages of frescoes, recently reopened to the public after more than two decades of closure. (It was partially reopened in 2016, allowing visitors into the entrance area and the atrium, but closed again entirely in 2019.) Visitors briefly got a chance to rub shoulders with archaeologists, architects, engineers and landscaping experts as they embarked on a comprehensive multi-disciplinary restoration project to conserve the famed wall and floor decorations, address major structural issues, renovate the colonnaded garden and install a new state-of-the-art drainage system.

Some of the more challenging aspects of the conservation involved fixing previous well-intended interventions gone awry over time. The concrete roof added in the 1950s to protect the villa’s remains from the elements was now exacerbating water penetration. Layers of wax applied to the frescoes for their protection and to give them a glossy sheen had to be painstakingly removed to restore the visibility of the of the magnificent detail in the architectural and mythological motifs.

The peristyle garden was restored with careful attention to the original plant species that grew there. Marble fountains, basins, pilasters and statues discovered in the garden of the villa in 19th century excavations are in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, but fine copies have now been installed in the garden to recreate its sumptuous hardscaping.

Another major renovation correcting a former misguided curatorial approach that was once common: locking up sexually explicit Roman art and artifacts behind closed doors to spare the weak sensibilities of women, children and the lower classes. Only gentlemen were deemed to have the moral fortitude to withstand the view of mighty erections and fornication in every position. They alone would be allowed into the locked Secret Cabinets where museums hid all the phalluses and deities mid-coitus that the Romans had displayed with pride, like the iconic fresco of Priapus weighing his erection against a pile of coins which welcomed all visitors at the front entrance of the villa.

In the case of the House of the Vettii, a room adjacent to the kitchen in the servants’ area of the villa was decorated with erotic wall paintings. Archaeologists believe it was used for prostitution, a hypothesis confirmed by the discovery of an inscription offering a “Greek and well-mannered” woman named Eutychis for the bargain price of two asses. An iron door was added in the 19th century and kept locked with access to the room only allowed upon request of men whose monocles were primed and ready to pop. That door has at long last been removed.

But it’s the frescoes in the main rooms of the house that are the real money shots of the House of the Vettii, and this video tour led by historian Darius Arya for Ancient Rome Live captures their intense color and dazzling detail beautifully. He also does an excellent job at explaining the mythological scenes and how they connect to the personal histories of homeowners Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva, freedmen brothers who became wealthy merchants and rose high in the city’s social ranks. 

This video captures overhead views that include the new roof that drains properly and the meticulous restoration of the interiors.