“And unto Adam He said, ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.’ ” —from the Holy Bible, Genesis 3:17
Adam fell from grace when he succumbed to Eve’s appeal to take a bite of an apple. Adam, a life-size white marble sculpture, fell from his pedestal in October 2002. Sometime between 5:30 PM, closing time for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), and 9 PM when the tragedy was discovered, this Renaissance masterpiece hit the unforgiving floor on the Patio of the Castle of Vélez Blanco, where it was on display. In defense of Adam his supporting pedestal was made only of plywood, and it was hollow. The sculpture was severely damaged, breaking into 28 large pieces and hundreds of fragments, in what was ruled an accident.
Adam, the first monumental classical nude carved since antiquity, was out of sight for a dozen years. We had fears he was beyond repair; but like Humpty Dumpty after his own great fall, the Museum has put Adam back together again. A 12-year conservation effort was undertaken with the aim to restore the 6-foot-3-inch marble sculpture to its original appearance. This determination has brought Adam back to his adoring public.
Opening on the 11th of November of this year, the exhibition that the MMA has created allows Adam to be viewed from a 360° vantage point; Adam will be thus displayed until July 2015. Entitled “Tullio Lombardo’s Adam, A Masterpiece Restored,” the exhibit can be seen in Gallery 504, on the MMA’s first floor. In a bow to the public’s interest in the how-to process, two tasteful video screens explain this unprecedented 12-year research and conservation project. This exhibit also launches this new, permanent gallery, which is dedicated to Venetian and northern Italian sculpture. At the right ankle and left thigh of Adam, the hairline fractures can be seen.
Tullio Lombardo’s Adam is among the most important works of art from the Venetian Renaissance that can be found outside the city that was once known as the Queen of Adriatic. Carved in the early 1490s for the tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin, Adam is the only sculpture from that elaborate and monumental work that the sculptor signed. The figure, idealized with a peaceful expression, was inspired by sculpture from ancient Rome and Greece.
If a sculptor in late 15th-century Venice was to be thought of as modern, he had to bring new life to the world of classical antiquity. This long-ago era was known through literature and artifacts; it was a time envisioned as wonderful, having an ideal beauty. The sculpture of Tullio Solari (1460–1532), known as Tullio Lombardo, called forth just such an imagined antiquity. His sculpted figures in high relief based on Greek and Roman examples; but he portrayed them with hairstyles and fashions contemporary to his time. Such an approach had never seen before. Tullio is considered the first sculptor in Venice who achieved convincing classical proportions.
Tullio, his younger brother Antonio (1458–1516) and their father Pietro Lombardo (1438–1515) worked together in the family’s architecture and sculpture business, a major workshop in Renaissance Venice. Tullio collaborated so closely with his relatives that their individual contributions are not distinguishable. Together they were referred to simply as i Lombardi, the Lombards. Their high-profile commissions included tombs for doges, Venice’s head-of-state. Tullio designed one of the greatest of these monuments, begun about 1489, for Doge Andrea Vendramin.
The tomb, originally built in the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, was relocated to the Basilica of Saints Giovanni and Paolo in the 1810s, where it remains. During this move, because of prudishness Adam had been removed from the monument and brought to Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi. In 1844 the great patroness of the arts, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, duchesse de Berry bought the palace and its contents; Adam was then the property of her descendants until 1931. By that year Adam was residing in Paris, where Henry Pereire, a banker bought it. In 1935 Madam Pereire, now widowed, sold the sculpture to an art dealer; the MMA purchased it the following year.