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hc2 In 2008 WMF developed a project with Historic Royal Palaces which used laser technology to monitor of renaissance terracotta sculptures.

Hampton Court Palace was first built by Cardinal Wolsey, for over a decade a close companion and chief minister to King Henry VIII. From 1514 Wolsey transformed a grand private house into a glorious Cardinalate palace as a centre of international politics in England. Henry VIII continued this work after he indeed took the palace as his own in 1528, rebuilding and extending Hampton Court into one of the most modern and sophisticated palaces in England.

In around 1520, Wolsey commissioned Giovanni da Maiano, a Florentine sculptor, to produce at least eight terracotta roundels featuring busts of the Roman emperors. Constructed in red terracotta, and originally painted and gilded, the roundels were mounted in the gatehouses and courtyard walls of Hampton Court Palace, before being joined by others in the eighteenth century and undergoing significant repairs and even recasting.

Existing weakness within the terracotta and environmental factors meant that for many years the delicate surfaces of the sculptures have been deteriorating at an accelerating rate.

How we helped

It was important to document the condition of the sculptures as fully as present technology allowed in order to measure the deterioration of the terracotta. Laser scanning serves this purpose as well as generating data that can perform other useful functions. For example these very accurate measurements can be used to compare roundels to examine how they were manufactured, or the data could be used to create reproductions of the roundels for various purposes.

By repeating the process two scans of the same area can be overlaid to calculate any deterioration that is taking place over a relatively short period of time and which would be almost unnoticeable to the naked eye.

World Monuments Fund supported the third phase of the scanning program of the roundels which included scanning three roundels for the first time and re-scanning two others.

Video credit: Historic Royal Palaces

Why it matters


hampton-court-roundels-kb-29-10-07-020The terracotta roundels are of great historic importance representing the first Renaissance architectural sculptures in England. This project contributed directly to the ongoing conservation programme and the measurements will guide customised treatment approaches for each roundel, and offer a way of enhancing public access to the physically inaccessible sculptures.

This project also contributed towards our understanding of how laser technology developed for manufacturing and design industry can benefit cultural heritage outside of a museum environment.