• an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept of three-dimensionality and its impact on the arts and sciences;
  • an innovative project which puts the minds of the 21st century in touch with those of early practitioners exploring three-dimensionality;
  • a series of exhibitions, events, public talks, gallery shows, and academic symposia intended to incite dialogue between artists, art and book historians, mathematicians, astronomers, geometers, earth scientists, botanists, chemists, etc.

Portrait of Luca Pacioli
Jacopo de' Barbari or Jacometto Veneziano (attr.), Detail of Luca Pacioli with a Student (Guidubaldo da Montefeltro?), 1495. Naples, Museo di Capodimonte


This project is centred on the development of the techniques used to communicate three-dimensional forms in two-dimensional media. The representation of truthful three-dimensional forms during the Renaissance became a skill to practice, and its successful completion was considered a virtuoso display of talent. As reliable two-dimensional illustrations of three-dimensional subjects became more prevalent it also impacted the way in which disciplines developed: architecture could be communicated much more clearly, mathematical concepts and astronomical observations could be quickly relayed, observations of the natural world moved towards a more realistic method of depiction.

Thinking 3D will put the 21st century minds in touch with the legacy of some of the greatest artists and thinkers (Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Andreas Vesalius, Peter Apian, Johann Kepler, Andrea Palladio, Athanasius Kircher, John Aubrey, William Hunter, etc.) through the medium of manuscripts and books, offering a cluster of exhibitions and events, which will tell the story of the communication of three-dimensionality and the impact that the developments of related techniques had on artists and draughtsman throughout time and across space. This theme is of great relevance today, as amateur and professional designers are constantly thinking about how to communicate three-dimensional forms in traditional media or by using computer software and 3D printing.

The plan is that of a pan-Oxford season of events: the heart of the project will be constituted by a main exhibition at the Treasury of the Bodleian Libraries (in the Weston Library), which will be surrounded by a group of satellite exhibitions and supported by a series of conferences, talks and workshops. Exhibitions across the University and city will display books, manuscripts, prints and drawings from various local collections, loans from other institutions, reproductions of works of art which will enhance the understanding of the concept, and original pieces commissioned to contemporary designers and artists who will take direct inspiration from the items on show.

Why 2019?

This initiative will be launched in 2019, the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, with the primary aim of celebrating one of the most ingenious minds in history. It will also consider the impact that his work has had across time and still has in our contemporary world.

Understanding how Leonardo perceived and transmitted the three-dimensional world is the seed from which Thinking 3D has grown. Leonardo’s work will be the opening protagonist of the exhibition at the Weston Library, considering his ways of observing, analysing and communicating on paper the reality around him. The pan-Oxford project will then look at the influence the rise and development of three-dimensionality on artists, mathematicians, draughtsmen, and designers over the last 500 years. Categories such as geometry, mathematics, architecture, astronomy, and natural and physical sciences will constitute the themes of the satellite exhibitions and public events.


At the heart of Thinking 3D is a collaborative research initiative to bring together topic-specialists in humanities, sciences, fine art, engineering and industry to discuss how the concept of three-dimensionality has affected their field. Historic surveys and accounts of current practices can tell us much about how we have conceived and communicated three-dimensionality. Thinking 3D is as much about the history of the concept as it is about understanding how three-dimensionality has affected, or is currently affecting, technological development, and in converse how these developments are helping us understand and communicate more clearly three dimensional concepts. Thinking 3D will bring together research in order to illuminate the countless ways that this concept has evolved, influenced change, and affected the way that we perceive and communicate in our modern world.



The central exhibition for Thinking 3D will open in 2019 at the Treasury of the Bodleian Libraries, Weston Library. At the same time, there will be several other satellite exhibitions across Oxford, which will explore in detail specific aspects of the concept.



2019 will be the ‘Year of 3D’ in Oxford, with a variety of events surrounding the exhibitions. Academic symposia, public talks, tours and other events will explore the theme of three-dimensionality, contemporary and historic, across disciplines.


Behind the Scenes

T3D_Behind the Scenes

An occasional glimpse at what inspires us and a look behind the exhibitions and events we are working on.

© 2017 Thinking 3D