After the Fall: The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo's Adam

Conservators, scientists, and curators tell the story behind the unprecedented conservation of Tullio Lombardo's Adam.


Producer and Editor: Maureen Coyle
Camera Operators: Maureen Coyle, Kate Farrell, Carolyn Riccardelli, Stephanie Wuertz
Photography: Joe Coscia, Anna Kellen, Ronald Street, Carolyn Riccardelli
Timelapse Photography: Thomas B. Ling
3D Animations: Coche Gonzalez / Bounding Box
3D Imaging: Ronald Street
2D Animations: Maureen Coyle, Mortimer Lebigre
Production Assistant: Lisa Rifkind
Advisers: Peter Jonathan Bell, Christopher Noey, Carolyn Riccardelli

Featured Artwork: Tullio Lombardo (Italian, ca. 1455–1532). Adam, ca. 1490–95. Italian, Venice. Marble; 6 ft. 3 1/2 in., 770 lb. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1936 (36.163)

Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), "Water Lily." Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), "Reawakening." Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Ryousuke Tachikawa (rysktchkw.com), "Life in Summer."
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), "Rollin at 5." Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Chris Zabriskie (chriszabriskie.com). "Preludes No. 1 & 2."

© 2014 The Metropolitan Museum of Art


[CAPTION:  Around 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 6, 2002, the pedestal supporting Adam gave way, and the sculpture fell to the floor.]

Carolyn Riccardelli:  It was a Monday morning and I got to work. And I got a phone call from Jack Soultanian. And he said, "Can you come to the Blumenthal Patio? There's been an incident." And he sounded very serious, so of course, I went upstairs. And I saw a sculpture in pieces, all over the floor.

[TITLE: After the Fall:  The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo's Adam]

Carolyn Riccardelli:  He was on a plywood pedestal and that collapsed.  It buckled underneath the weight of the sculpture. 

Larry Becker:  For a piece, you know, that important to be damaged was something catastrophic.  Really high quality Renaissance sculpture, outside of Italy, is not common.  This was an iconic piece, in being one of the earliest nudes, sculptures, going back to the inspiration from antiquity.

James David Draper:  I think there’s a purification of form going on here that makes it even exceptional in Renaissance depictions of Adam overall.  There’s this forthright, and yet dreamy, quality about the Tullio that set it apart.

Carolyn Riccardelli: The reaction is to document everything as it is, just like you would on a crime scene.  We immediately began plotting out a grid on the floor.  And then we went and took a picture of every single square.  And after that we began to pick up the pieces.  He’s in about twenty-eight major fragments; but then of course, there are hundreds of very small fragments.  And it was all saved. Then there was just a period of pausing and trying to come up with a general plan of what to do.

[CAPTION: Research 2003—2011]

Ron Street: I proposed that we may be able to utilize three dimensional imaging.  If we scanned the object, we could create a virtual reconstruction and hopefully move on to doing finite element analysis of the piece. 

Patrick Cunningham:  You’re taking a structure and you’re basically turning it into a 3D jigsaw puzzle.  The difference being that all the pieces in that puzzle are glued together.  You’re analyzing what’s happening with each individual piece, and then determining how that pertains to the entire structure, because all the pieces are connected together.  The color distributions that you see are graphical representations of stress distribution or displacement.

George Wheeler:  If we were to be asked, look, you have to put this together next month, we would have done what we’ve always done before. We would’ve drilled holes in every joint, used stainless steel pins, rather large and long, to put this sculpture back together, and used very strong adhesives.  But we wanted to say, can we step back from those materials?

Larry Becker:  We have a class of acrylic adhesives that we use commonly in conservation, that are reversible.  They’d never really been tested adequately for the kind of stress that the fragments of the Adam would be under when they were rejoined.

George Wheeler:  So this is about an engineering, materials science approach that includes mechanical testing, computer science.  What arose out of that work was the fact that these reversible adhesives are strong enough to carry some of the big joints on the sculpture all by themselves.  Stones and all materials have a different strength, and they have a different stiffness. And there are pinning materials that have similarly different stiffnesses.  And as we assessed different pinning materials, we came to a material which needed to be stressed very, very highly to fail. But when it failed, the pin failed, without damage to the stone.  And that pin turned out to be fiberglass.

Larry Becker:  We sort of from the beginning, felt that the ankles, because of the stress on them—that you basically had the whole weight of the sculpture on a— on a relatively small surface area—that they were going to require some pinning.  We ultimately wound up drilling it only in one other area, which was this fragment in one of the— the knees, which was an area where the— the angle of stress really shifted very quickly and where there was a small fragment at the knee which lessened the stability of that join and had to be dealt with.

Carolyn Riccardelli:  The breaks on the sculpture were so fresh, we wanted to minimize the amount of times we put the pieces together, took them apart, moved things around.  We sort of collectively came up with this idea. Like, wouldn’t it be great if we had another sculpture?  And of course, we weren’t just gonna break any sculpture, a work of art, so we thought that we could get some kind of reproduction.

Michael Morris:  There was a possibility of getting this very ugly marble statue of David.  We broke that David along the fracture lines of Adam.

Carolyn Riccardelli:  And we used that to plan our armature.

Michael Morris: There was a full-scale copy made, CNC-milled piece of each and every piece of Adam.

Carolyn Riccardelli :  We then applied those concepts to the milled version.  Those carbon fiber straps could be taken off the model and used directly on the sculpture.

[CAPTION: Assembly 2011—2014]

Michael Morris:  We were starting at the ankles, and we glued the two ankles. And then we stacked everything up, just for the ankles. So we knew that everything was in line. 

Carolyn Riccardelli:  And then we slowly worked our way from the bottom up.

Carolyn Riccardelli:  Joining the legs to the torso, we were aligning two places, all very rigid.  Michael was on one leg; I was on the other and we became very familiar with our particular joints.  When you’re just going stone to stone, things kind of lock together in a very nice, satisfying way. When you put the adhesive in there, things kinda move around.  It’s like having ball bearings in the joint.  And you really need to let that adhesive kind of ooze out to create a very consistent film.

Larry Becker: After years of seeing it as fragments, to have the head on it and actually have it be a complete form was quite an amazing moment.  Luckily the major fragments fit together very well, but in other areas, particularly in the arms and hands, there was considerable damage.  In terms of the aesthetic presentation of the sculpture, it’s going to be those small fills that are going to be the most critical aspect. 

Jack Soultanian:  Over the years, dirt had accumulated on the sculpture. It was cleaned before filling any of the losses.  You work on different areas of the sculpture simultaneously.  The main philosophy is to have an even surface.

Carolyn Riccardelli:  When it comes to putting on fills or retouching something, we always use reversible materials.

Carolyn Riccardelli:  We tried to get everything we could out of this horrible accident.  I think in the end, he will be back to where he was. So is that the same or not? That’s for everybody else to decide, but I think that the spirit of the sculpture and the— the true beauty of it is still there.


Looking for press releases and resources? Visit our dedicated press room, which contains the latest information and media assets.

Cover of brochure

Featuring: The Civilians, John Zorn, La Celestina, Charles Lloyd, Oscar nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson, Donatella Versace, and more.

View the spring 2015 brochure.

Plain or Fancy

This interactive features objects that could be considered both austere and ornate. Tell us what you think!