Echoes of Egypt: Re-Creating a Medieval Sphinx

Alberto Urcia: Coordinator (NELC - Yale University)

Antonino Vazzana: Dipartimento di Beni Culturali - DBC (University of Bologna)

Simone Zambruno: CIRI Edilizia e Costruzioni (University of Bologna)

In the summer of 2012, in preparation for the exhibition “Echoes of Egypt: Conjuring the Land of the Pharaohs,” a joint American-Italian team used cutting-edge light-scanning technology to re-create a medieval sphinx.  Currently in the collection of the Museo Civico in Viterbo, Italy, an inscription on the base of the sphinx gives the name of its creator, Paschalis Romanus, and the date 1286.  One of the few examples of medieval Egyptian revival art, it was only possible to include the marble statue, approximately 33 x 21 inches, by creating a 3-D copy.


The first step was to set up a mobile workstation within the galleries of the Viterbo Museo Civico.  A complete photographic record of the sphinx was made in order to document the original texture and color of the monument.  Then, the team carefully calibrated the light scanner (Nextengine) to acquire the best coverage of every surface. 


During the scanning, approximately 50 separate scans were taken of the sphinx.  Each scan, which took 7 to 15 minutes to complete, was simultaneously aligned using computer software to maintain the greatest accuracy.  In total, the scan resulted in hundreds of thousands of individual points.


To obtain a 3-D printable model of the sphinx, each point of the light-scan was filtered, aligned and then, processed to obtain a vectorial surface (NURBS).  Once finished, the model was scaled, oriented within the three dimensional space and exported in different formats.  The computer model of the sphinx was then printed using 3-D technology at the Yale University School of Architecture.

Museo Civico, Viterbo No. 117

Light-scanning of sphinx in progress

Light-scanning of sphinx in progress

Three-dimensional digital model of the sphinx in progress

Final three-dimensional digital model of the sphinx