The completed nylon sculpture

Sculpture of James Watt created using 3D technology

A previously unseen sculpture of one of the Industrial Revolution's greatest engineers - James Watt, has been created using 3D technology.

The bust comes from a mould, dating back to 1807, which was discovered in Watt's workshop during preparations for an exhibition on his life.

Watt is known for his pioneering work on the steam engine which helped turn Britain from cottage and craft production into an industrial powerhouse.

The complex plaster mould used for the bust is one of 26 which fill the shelves of Watt's preserved workshop, many still tied up in their original string.

While preparing for the exhibition at the Science Museum, conservators examined each mould in turn, taking them to pieces to scrutinise the detail inside.

They found moulds for the heads of lions, the mythological gods Bacchus, Apollo and Cupid and an image they thought could be Watt.

The early 19th century mould consisted of 25 separate pieces and was thought too fragile to allow a plaster cast to be taken.

So it was examined with a colour triangulation scanner to produce a perfect digital 'cast', enabling a sculpture to be created.

The bust will enjoy pride of place at the Science Museum exhibition - James Watt And Our World.

Andrew Nahum, Principal Curator of Technology and Engineering, said finding a new representation of a major national figure like Watt is a “real discovery, a quite exceptional event”.

"The bust is not in the historical record and its display in the gallery will be the first time it has ever been seen in public. Aside from the scarcity of the image, the bust itself is of high artistic quality.”

Nahum said Watt devoted much of his own time in later years to copying sculpture.

"Perhaps surprisingly, as a result of his interest in this area, the Science Museum holds what may be Britain's largest collection of early 19th century sculpture moulds," he said.

When Watt died in 1819, his workshop at his home near Birmingham, was locked and its contents left undisturbed as an 'industrial shrine'. In 1924, the complete workshop, including its door, window, skylight, floorboards and 6,500 objects used or created by Watt, were carefully removed and transported to the Science Museum in London.

Although the workshop has previously been displayed at the Museum, visitors have never been able to go inside until now. The new display opens on March 23.

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