All the king’s horses and all the king’s men may not have been able to put Humpty Dumpty together again. But they were no match for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s teams of restorers and curators, who spent the past 12 years putting a 15th-century statue of Adam that had smashed into hundreds of pieces back together. The 6-foot-3-inch tall marble statue by Venetian sculptor Tullio Lombardo goes back on public display this Tuesday in the facility’s new Venetian Sculpture Gallery.
The 12-year effort took far longer than anyone expected, creating a rumor that the statue was irreparable. But the cutting edge project was painstakingly carried out in a open manner involving dozens of art experts as well as scientists, engineers and even hospital technicians (CT scans were done) that will undoubtedly reform restoration and conservation work going forward.
The effort began after closing on the night of Oct. 6, 2002, when the 770-pound Adam fell from its pedestal and shattered into 28 large pieces and hundreds of fragments. The head came off at the neck and the limbs sustained most of the damage. There were even skid marks on the torso from sliding across the rough floor.
Alerted by a security guard who found the shattered statue on his rounds, the area became a forensic crime scene with every chip mapped, recovered and bagged by curators. It took a couple of days to complete the thorough clean up with the area cordoned off from the public.
Foul play was feared, but it turned out that the wooden pedestal buckled. At the time, the Met’s then director, Philippe de Montebello, called the accident just “about the worst thing that could happen” to a museum.
The monumental nude statue by Lombardo was commissioned in the early 1490s originally for the tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin in the church of Santa Mora dei Servi in Venice. The church was demolished in 1812 in accordance with Napoleon’s edicts on religious orders. The status was deemed to not be appropriate for a religious institution because of the nudity. It came to the Met in 1936.
To reassemble Adam, the Met team used a laser-mapping technology that created a three-dimensional version of the status. This helped them determine stress points that would be the weakest areas once the pieces were reassembled. The team also looked for the best materials to use to hold the pieces together without damaging the marble, and in the process came up with new models and procedures for statue conservation. They ultimately used innovative fiberglass pins, tested for weight-bearing, in each ankle and one in his left knee. A newly developed, more pliable adhesive was used to reassembled the shattered marble.
The statue’s head was reattached last year. Since then, the restoration team filled in any holes and cracks to match the original coloring of the stone. The whole status was also cleaned and polished.
Nobody envisioned that putting the smashed 15th century statue of Adam back together would take 12 years. But the museum wanted Adam “brought back to a state where only the cognoscenti could tell anything had happened,” according to de Montebello. “To leave it in a broken state would have been to choose its accident as its defining historical moment.”
By Dyanne Weiss