The Digital Michelangelo Project is an attempt to use laser rangefinder technology to digitise the sculpture and architecture of Michelangelo. Sadly, however, scans taken in 1988/9 have not yet been fully transferred into digital 3d models.
The team from Stanford and Washington Universities, led by Marc Levoy brought back 250 gigbaytes of data after scanning the statues and architecture. But so far they have only made high-quality models of the “David” at 1.0 mm resolution (56 million triangles) and “St. Matthew” at 0.25 mm (372 million triangles). 1,186 fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae have also been modelled. (View them here.)
To view the models you have to download their Scan Viewer from here.
The delay is partly due to technical problems. (“These are problems of both scale and substance, and they touch on every aspect of digital archiving: storage, indexing, searching, distribution, viewing, and piracy protection.”)
However the main problem seems to be lack of time and funding. Or, as some might put it, the project hasnt yet found the right business model. The Italian authorities imposed restrictions on what can be done with the models, and there is the IP to consider as well.
But to return to the issue of virtual tourism: if these images are as realistic as the originals themselves (“we wanted to capture chisel marks smaller than a millimeter”), then what is the difference between seeing the real thing, and viewing the model? This is not a rhetorical question. Obviously, a 2d screen is not the same as really viewing an object. But if you could achieve a 3d projection (hologram, VR headset, whatever) what would be the difference? With the virtual David, you can get as close as you like, and see it from every angle. You can see it when and as often as you like. You can bring two sculptures side by side to compare them.
Its easy to say “Its just not the same…”, but why is it not?