A clandestine group has secretly 3D scanned the famous Nefertiti sculpture at the Neues Museum in Berlin - and released the scan publicly!
The 3,300 year old colorful sculpture originated in Egypt, of course, but was relocated to Germany in 1912 by its discovers. Today it rests in a special room at the famous Neues Museum in the heart of Berlin, where visitors can peer at the sculpture - but are not permitted to photograph it. I’ve been in this very room gazing at Nefertiti and have no pictures to prove my visit due to these rules, which I presume are to prevent repeated inadvertent flash photography from damaging the priceless artifact.
Here’s a view of the actual sculpture, which is astonishingly colorful and dramatic when seen in person. It might be the room in which it is prominently stored, but I think it's the sculpture itself that provides the magic.
However, those rules evidently did not prevent a team of German artists from secretly capturing a sufficient number of still images to perform photogrammetry offsite. This process involves taking a sequence of images from all angles through 360 degrees, and then having specialized software interpret the changes in 2D images into a true 3D model.
Evidently the team, composed of artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, used the photogrammetry-derived 3D model as a “rough guide” only. They then employed a number of conventional 3D modeling techniques to flesh out the detail and generate a truly wonderful 3D model of the famous sculpture.
But what is their motivation? Here’s the explanation:
Nefertiti is returning to the place where it was found. For the first time since the sculpture was excavated and stolen over 100 years ago, the iconic artefact will be shown in Cairo. “ “The Other Nefertiti” is an artistic intervention by the two German artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles. Al-Badri and Nelles scanned the head of Nefertiti clandestinely in the Neues Museum Berlin without permission of the Museum and they hereby announce the release of the 3D data of Nefertitis head under a Creative Commons Licence.
The artists 3D-Print exhibited in Cairo is the most precise scan ever made public of the original head of Nefertiti. With regard to the notion of belonging and possession of objects of other cultures, the artists intention is to make cultural objects publicly accessible. The Neues Museum in Berlin until today does not allow any access to the head of Nefertiti nor to the data from their scan. “With the data leak as a part of this counter narrative we want to activate the artefact, to inspire a critical re-assessment of today’s conditions and to overcome the colonial notion of possession in Germany” the two artists say.
I’ve checked out the resulting 3D model and indeed it is incredible. While there are several existing 3D models of Nefertiti available, such as this one at 3DVia, they are of far less detail than the new hacked model. I suspect this model is suitably detailed for large-scale 3D printing or CNC milling, far larger than the size of the original sculpture, which happens to be less than 500mm in height.
Here you can see an example of the detail in this close view of the mesh representing Nefertiti’s eye. The entire surface of this model is similarly detailed, including cracks and dents, accumulated over the centuries.
While the STL model lacks the color of the original, it is still a simply stunning work of incredible beauty. There is a colorized model, based on the actual texture’s, but it is not available for download as far as I can tell.
You can download the now-publicly available 3D model from a torrent right here.