3D Modelling of Islamic Metalwork: Processes and Potentials

The 'Courtauld Bag', a brass bag inlaid with silver and gold and manufactured in Mosul in the early 14thcentury, is a unique object recognised by specialists as one of the most important examples of Islamic metalwork in the world. A major exhibition, 'Court and Craft: a masterpiece from Northern Iraq', was created around this beautiful object, and ran at the Courtauld institute from February to May of this year.

As part of the exhibition, UCL's 3D imaging group were commissioned to create an animation to be displayed in the gallery alongside the object. The bag was scanned with an Arius Foundation laser scanner, imaged under a PTM1 dome and finally photographed for photogrammetric reconstruction. Despite the shiny, metallic nature of the object, a detailed 3D model was created using structure-from-motion2, while a brand new technique was used for specular reconstruction from the PTM images, creating stunning photo-realistic renderings of small details of the bag. These renderings were combined to create a two and a half minute video which was shown in the exhibition. (The video can be viewed at http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2014/Court-and-Craft/model.shtml )

Research is ongoing, the juxtaposition of rendered 'cgi' video and the real object affording a unique opportunity to examine and evaluate the use of modern technology and imaging techniques in a traditional exhibition environment. A prominent artist and senior research fellow at the University of the Arts, London, Jananne Al-Ani, observed the imaging, again affording a unique opportunity to explore the intersection of three disparate disciplines, art, technology and cultural heritage.

Our research now focusses on use and usage of the model, as we investigate the potential of using these techniques within the cultural and heritage sector. This paper will present both the building and the user testing of the model, highlighting best practice and public engagement aspects of using 3D within museums and galleries.

Illustration 1: Detail from the specular reconstruction

1 Hammer, Øyvind, et al. "Imaging fossils using reflectance transformation and interactive manipulation of virtual light sources." Palaeontologia Electronica 5.4 (2002): 9.

2 Kersten, Thomas P., and Maren Lindstaedt. "Image-based low-cost systems for automatic 3D recording and modelling of archaeological finds and objects."Progress in Cultural Heritage Preservation. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012. 1-10.

Illustration 2: Image of the 3D reconstruction of the bag