18 Nov Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils reassembled 15th-century statue

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art may have more than two million works of art in its collection, but that fact provided little solace when, back in 2002, its marble statue of Adam by the 15th century Italian sculptor Tullio Lombardo crashed to the ground.

The masterpiece shattered into so many pieces that much doubt prevailed as to whether it would ever be successfully put back together. It is therefore to the relief of the admirers of marble and custom bronze art everywhere – including ourselves here at Big Statues – that the statue has indeed been reassembled and shown off again at the museum – albeit, with the signs of its ordeal not entirely invisible.

Today, for those viewing from a distance, the 770-pound nude statue looks truly stunning once more. The good impression continues as one walks towards it – except that jagged marks remain discernible on the backs of Adam’s knees, as well as on the tree trunk depicted alongside him.

The Met’s head curator of European sculpture and decorative arts, Luke Syson, described the accident more than a decade ago as “the worst thing that can happen in a museum”, adding of the visible remaining cracks in the piece: “While we don’t want this to be the primary narrative about this work, we similarly don’t want to pretend that nothing’s ever happened.”

Lombardo’s Adam dates from the early 1490s, when it was first installed in a Venetian doge’s tomb. The statue then passed through a succession of owners before its 1936 entry into the Met’s collection. Its fall from its pedestal left it broken in 28 large pieces and hundreds of small ones.

The restoration process began with the three-dimensional imaging of the broken pieces, leading to the creation of several models, some life-size. Various engineering and materials studies were then performed, followed by the development over several years of Adam’s custom armature and eventually, the gradual reconstruction of the actual statue.

A combination of fiberglass pins and acrylic-based adhesives has been used to keep the statue together, with surface areas that could not otherwise be repaired being filled. Such an unprecedented restoration process – with another museum employee describing it as “probably the first time that anybody had ever reconstructed a thing virtually that was in so many pieces” – has made it a case study for the wider conservation community.

If you’re in New York City any time soon, we’d urge you to check out the finished result. Lombardo’s Adam really is on top form once more – certainly news that we welcome here at Big Statues, as specialists in the very finest custom bronze art.

Met Museum

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