• FRANCINE PRESTON

Sculpting with Robots: Robotor’s Neoclassical Carrara Statues in Italy


"I'm still learning." Credit: @robotor_official on Instagram]

These were the parting words of Michelangelo, one of the most prominent Renaissance artists. You could say he spoke for all of humanity, as the Renaissance spurred centuries of learning that gave us the modern era. But today, we can push Michelangelo aside — literally. Italian scientists at Robotor have developed robotic arms that can carve sculptures out of world-famous Carrara marble. But how did these robots come to fruition? And what does this mean for the world's sculptors? Robots and Carrara marble

Robotor co-founder Giacomo Massari said that the concept of machine-produced marble sculptures was born "out of necessity." For centuries, Carrara’s quarries provided many artists with slabs carved from highly sought-after stone. Carrara marble is known for its translucency, durability, and uniquely colored veining, which can range from a smoky gray to the familiar light blue veins found underneath our own skin. It's no wonder it was the medium of choice for artists like Bernini, Donatello, and Michelangelo himself. It even covered the lobby of the former World Trade Center from floor to ceiling. Today, one slab can cost up to $400 per square meter. At the same time though, the marble is said to be going out of style in artistic circles, now more frequently used for countertops and tiling. In fact, most modern artists avoid marble due to the time and effort it takes to complete a sculpture, as well as the health risks posed by inhaling dust. Today, Robotor hopes that their diamond-fingered robot arm assistants can save both Italian art’s legacy and its appeal on the international market. Robotor's bots

In the beginning, Robotor bought their robots from local tech firms. Eventually, however, they began to design and produce bots independently after more artists began to commission robots to bring their designs to life. Robotor's bots specialize in stonework, mainly using milling to get the job done. After setting them up manually, which includes feeding a 3D design into the system, they can finish projects autonomously. The aforementioned features are possible thanks to the powerful motors the bots run on. The motors rely on high speed PCBs, or printed circuit boards, that are able to maintain its hardware’s signal transmission integrity. As a result, even large robots can work precisely and accurately. Most notably, the BOT-ONE XL, Robotor's biggest robot to date, was able to recreate Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss in just 11 days, as compared to the original five years.

Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss as recreated by the Robotor BOT-ONE XL. Credit: @robotor_official on Instagram

However, the results aren't always perfect. Technician Michele Basaldella once witnessed a bot cracking a Bernini Sleeping Hermaphrodite replica, and this wasn’t the first instance. Although despite some minor issues, Robota's progress has been remarkable. In fact, some of their newer models now feature self-programming software.

Blasphemous or the way of the future?

Ultimately, the robots were met with mixed responses. Traditional sculptor Michele Monfroni says that they would make "Michelangelo tear out his hair," and would only make art into business. However, art historians believe otherwise. Historically, artists relied on commissions and needed assistants to complete them — and robots are just assistants made out of metal. Either way, Basaldella believes the robots are a major achievement. “I think our robots are a work of art,” he professed. After all, what used to take sculptors years to do can now be accomplished in a matter of days — and the craftsmanship is nothing short of astonishing.