Chinese Art Gallery Displays 3D-Printed Copies Of Buddhist Statues From UNESCO World Heritage Site

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On Saturday, the Yungang Grottoes Art Gallery in the coastal city of Qingdao, East China was opened to the public, exhibiting three Buddhist statues created using 3-D printing technology. According to the Xinhua News, these full-size models are the imitations of the Buddhist statues carved into a sandstone cliff at the Yungang Grottoes caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Datong City, Shanxi province, northern China.

Yungang Grottoes caves stretch for nearly 1 km, giving visitors an opportunity to witness the great artistic skills of ancient Chinese people. There are nearly 51,000 carved statues and images in more than 250 caves at this site. This artwork is believed to be nearly 1,500 years old. In 2001, this site was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to archeologists, the carved statues at Yungang Grottoes are in danger due to natural weathering. In 2011, a study carried out by a team of researchers from Zhejiang University also confirmed that weathering and high air pollution can completely destroy these statues in near future.

The 3D-printed models displayed in the art gallery were created as a joint project of Yungang Grottoes Research Institute, Zhejiang University, and Qingdao Publishing Group. The Qingdao Publishing Group financed the project and offered one billion yuan for the program. Researchers captured more than 10,000 pictures of the original statues in Yungang Grottoes, created models on computers, and finally printed models using local sandstone and 20 printers. The first color coating on models was painted using machines, but the final touch was given by the artists from Yungang.

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One of the models exhibited in the art gallery is about 10 meters high, while the other two are nearly six meters tall.

“It’s hard to believe that they are reproduced. They look so real,” said Zhang Zhuo, head of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute.

According to Zhang Zhuo, the Institute is now working to reproduce statues from two other caves using 3D printing technology.

3D-printing technology is now being increasingly used to create life-sized models of historical artwork. According to 3dprint, researchers in Syria have used this technique to restore the cultural heritage of the country, following the destruction of important building and work of art by ISIS militants. A British organization is also using this technique to save heritage at risk. South Korea is another country where cultural groups are using 3D printable forms to promote the culture of the country.