By JENNIFER SZULMAN
New life was breathed into Tullio Lombardo’s 15th century sculpture, Adam, on Tuesday as crowds gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the unveiling of the newly restored marble figure.
After undergoing 12 arduous years of conservation and restoration, this important sculpture from the Italian Renaissance was back on display as the focus of the museum’s new exhibition, “Tullio Lombardo’s Adam: A Masterpiece Restored.”
In October 2002, the pedestal supporting the statue gave out, shattering it into many parts. Consequently, several conservators, imaging experts, engineers and scientists worked meticulously for over a decade to return the statue to its original form.
“We are proud to return this great Tullio sculpture to public view in a beautiful new gallery,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Met in a news release. “Our extraordinary conservators collaborated with a team of experts over 12 years to pursue this extremely challenging work. The results of their care and innovation are stunning.”
On display near the statue were videos detailing and explaining the scrupulous processes that went into restoring the figure of the first man on earth made in God’s image. When the statue fell, it was shattered into 28 large pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments. The sculpture’s arms, lower legs and tree trunk were the most heavily damaged. The restoration proved to be a challenging mission for all involved as new methods had to reduce handling of the already fragile parts.
The diligent efforts did not go unnoticed by many museum visitors.
“This is an extraordinary advance in the science and the art of conservation,” said Roger Thomas, a museum patron. “It is delightful to see that science has triumphed over accident. It would have been a great loss not to restore it. It is wonderful that the Met had the wherewithal, time and talent to pursue it in such a thoughtful and patient way to achieve such an extraordinary result.”
Lombardo created the statue Adam in the early 1490’s to stand in the niche to the left of doge Andrea Vendramin’s tomb. According to the news release, “it is the first life-sized nude marble statue since antiquity and the most important Italian Renaissance sculpture in North America.” Lombardo’s piece portrays the Genesis story of the Creation of Man and his fall. It is said that the sculptor captured Adam’s anxiety through balancing the arrangement of his limbs and torso. As the biblical story goes, Adam was created by God to be the perfect human being but was exposed to original sin after eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In the sculpture, we see the fruit in Adam’s hand but it is left ambiguous as to whether or not he has eaten it.
The piece based on a widely known story from the Bible provoked some museum patrons to form their own opinions about the intended message of the artist.
“This is a moment frozen in time,” said Cristiana Ginatta, a museum patron originally from Italy. “We don’t know if Adam already ate the apple or if he’s about to, but this moment made a big impact on the history of humanity. There is that ambiguity which I think was the intention of the artist not to disclose.”
Despite the restoration project attracting publicity and attention in New York City, it remains to be seen whether Adam will continue to draw in newcomers to the museum once the hype dies down.
“Adam is not a remarkable piece of sculpture,” said Lou Lalli, a visitor to the museum. “There are many more pieces that are sculpturally of greater importance and merit. I think once the notoriety of the restoration is complete and over, it will fall back into being just one more anonymous piece in this very large collection.”
Adam will move into the niche on the east wall once the exhibition finishes – highlighting its original placement on the Vendramin tomb. The special exhibit is located in the New Venetian Sculpture Gallery on the 1st floor of the Metropolitan – Gallery 504. The exhibition will run until July 2015.