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Perfect Copies of the Parthenon Marbles so London Can Return the Originals



At Tor Art, a Carrara-based company specializing in robotic sculpture, a mechanical arm is picking up the legacy of the great masters and "healing" international controversies, starting with the one between the British Museum and Greece.

Between the Versilia coast and the Apuan Alps, just steps away from the white Carrara marble quarries, there is a laboratory where a skillful sculptural hand creates perfect copies of historical masterpieces. This hand is robotic. With anthropomorphic machines and 3D laser scanners, Carrara's Tor Art is reviving the legacy of Tuscan masters by creating, among other works, friezes from the Parthenon, ripped two centuries ago from the temple of Athena on the Acropolis.

At the center of a long international controversy, these sculptures and bas-reliefs dating from 447-432 BC in Pentelic marble have been claimed for years by Greece, which would place them in a museum at the foot of the Acropolis, but they remain firmly anchored in the British Museum, where they have been since 1817, kindly donated by Thomas Bruce, a Scottish statesman and seventh Earl of Elgin, and from which they will not move except on loan. Amidst this stalemate, the Institute of Digital Archaeology decided to promote their 'cloning', just as they did in 2016 with the reconstruction of the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, destroyed in 2015 by Isis and presented the following year in Trafalgar Square with the support of TorArt.

According to the executive director of the Institute of Digital Archaeology, American Roger Michel, the copies should go to the British Museum to "encourage the repatriation of the Elgin marbles," he told The New York Times: "When two people want the same cake, making another identical one is a natural solution." Not that defining what is "identical" is an easy process. Although the IDA formally requested permission from the British to scan the frieze, the museum denied access: at that point, the executive director and the technical director of the institute, Alexy Karenowska, had to go to the Duveen Gallery (where the marbles are exhibited) stealthily and armed with ordinary iPhones and iPads with Lidar sensors and photogrammetry software to create digital 3D images to provide to TorArt's robot-sculptor. It began working last June 29, carving a life-size horse head that will serve as a prototype for the final model in Pentelic marble.

The robot then began to recreate a copy of a second Parthenon marble: a metope, or sculpted panel, of the Centaur machia, a mythical battle between the civilized Lapiths and beastly centaurs at the wedding feast of Peirithous and Hippodamia. While these first friezes will be completed by the end of July and exhibited at an unknown location in London, two more copies of the marbles will be made that restore the original shape and color, remedying damage or errors made by the British, such as the abrasive cleaning carried out in the late thirties (which removed the surface patina): "Our replicas will have traces of color, especially in terms of skin tones," Michel said. The paint, which will be applied by hand with the assistance of Greek experts, will allow the institute to "immunize itself from academic criticism." An accusation, on the other hand, has already arisen: that the attitude behind the intervention, like that of Palmyra, is not in itself colonial, given the absence of consultations with the involved people (and unknown funding)?

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