After the Fall: The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam”

After the Fall: The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam”


– It was a Monday morning
and I got to work and I got a phone call
from Jack Sultanian 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 the sculpture
in pieces all over the floor. He was on a plywood pedestal
and that collapsed, it buckled underneath
the weight of the sculpture. – 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 going back to inspiration
from antiquity. – 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 Tulio
that set it apart. – 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
28 major fragments, but 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. – 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. – 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 happened
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. – 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 have drilled holes
in every joint, used stainless steel pins,
rather large and long, to put this sculpture
back together and use very strong adhesives. But we wanted to say, can we
step back from those materials? – We have a class of acrylic
adhesives that we use commonly in conservation
that are reversible. They’ve never really been tested
adequately for the kind of stress that the fragments
of the Adam would be under when they were rejoined. – So this is about
an engineering, material 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 this
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. – We sort of,
from the beginning, felt that the ankles–
because of the stress on them, basically had the whole weight
of the sculpture 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 knees, which was an area
where the angle of the stress shifted very quickly and where
there was a small fragment of the knee which lessened
the stability of that joint and had to be dealt with. – 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
going to break any sculpture, a work of art,
so we thought that we could get some kind of reproduction. – There was a possibility
of getting this very ugly marble statue
of David. We broke that David along
the fracture lines of Adam… – And we used that
to plan our armature. – There was a full-scale copy
made, CNC-milled piece of each and every piece
of Adam. – 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. – We’re 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. – And then we slowly worked
our way from the bottom up. 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 joint. 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 kind of 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. I’m putting plenty on… – Okay… After years of seeing it
as fragments, got the head on and actually
have it be a complete form, it was quite an amazing moment. So, congratulations, Michael. 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. – 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. – When it comes to putting on
fills or retouching something, we always use reversible
materials. 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 true beauty of it
is still there.

100 thoughts on “After the Fall: The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam””

  1. What a disaster. Itz a amazing restoration. But I think the base should be a dark marble or a real wood but nat so high up if it waz on a lower base I think the breaking would haft been less. How was it originally displayed. I would Reacessed the other bases to keep outher amazing works from tha same falling

  2. Your conservators should be very proud of the work they did. They did a terrific job that respected the artist's original work, preserving as much of the sculpture as possible.

  3. classic example of penny smart and pound stupid. unfortunately, unlike the statue, it's seen a lot outside of Italy.

  4. I think everyone’s being a little quick to judge about the plywood support. I’m not an art conservator and I’m pretty sure none of you are either. There’s no one that cares more about these works than these people. They dedicate their lives to them. There’s no way they would ever let a priceless artifact like this go up on something they thought was unstable. I firmly believe they were assured that the statue would be safe on that pedestal and that they never expected it to buckle and have the whole thing come crashing down.

  5. So for everyone talking about about the "cheap" plywood pedestal, I was a little intrigued, and did a little research. The video really doesn't go into much detail but from what I was able to find the pedestal was more than just plywood and was pretty heavily reinforced internally with several braces and supports. Also the pedestal had been holding the statue for at least 65 years without incident going back to 1936 when the museum acquired the statue and put it on display in that location. Whatever caused the pedestal to fail was unusual enough that the Met had 2 separate engineering firms conduct forensic investigations on the pedestal to determine why it suffered a sudden and catastrophic failure

    https://www.odonnellconsulting.com/project-view/statue-base-failure/
    http://rapperport.com/case-studies/pedestal-collapse

  6. Ugly statue of David….? Ugly? David, sweetie. so sorry. I'm so sorry that a ugly ass b*tch like this would even say that, oh my god!

  7. it must be an interesting feeling as a conservationist when something like this happens. on one hand it's tragic when beautiful art is damaged. but on the other, you're about to start an amazing project

  8. but… but… you could have measured the strength and resistance of the pedestal and compare it with the weight and density of the statue and you would have known that the thing wasn't appropriate support in the first place…. Am I missing some sort of crucial detail that justifies the incident? This seems like pure negligence to me.

  9. DONT TELL ME ABOUT YOU FUCKING GREAT IDEAS! WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT AND WHO IS THE IDIOT WHO DID NOT CALCULATE THAT PEDESTAL? fucking idiots…

  10. So let me see if I'm understanding this correctly. These "scientists" Go through a rigorous process of finding out how much stress the repairing materials can handle but never thought to apply the same technology to something as simple as the pedestal? Book smart but definitely world stupid!

  11. Keep in mind these guys just fixed a mistake they didn’t make the error in judgement. Thank you for your work and talent. FYI do you know New England has had the occasional earthquake?

  12. What a bunch of b.s.. No wonder why evening cost so much. These so-called "educated" people took hundreds of thousands of dollars and years to do what a preschooler could have done in two days. Morons
    These are the types of prior w/o watch wresting and believe someone wins.

  13. What a tragic thing to have happen. Surely there are far better options for pedestal materials than plywood and cardboard. I would think just about any museum curator would be well aware of such things.

  14. You'd think people who consistently drop their unprotected iPhones shouldn't complain about them not having protected this statue better.

  15. Only Americans, residents of the land of cardboard houses, can come up with the idea of ​​putting a marble statue on a plywood pedestal.

  16. Nice going Yanks, you just pissed away $40 to $80 million! If the Elgin Marbles ever come crashing down I'll retract my words.

  17. You know why Adam's face looks like that, giving you that mad side-eye? It's because he knew they would royally fuck up in the future.

  18. WHO was the genius curator who thought it was a good idea to put a priceless marble sculpture on a PLYWOOD BOX? Even kids' toy building blocks are made of solid wood! On a more serious note, one doesn't have to be an art "expert" to know you don't put a priceless marble statue on a plywood stand, no matter HOW thick the plywood. For one thing if you look at the before picture it's obvious the thing is top heavy. I'm surprised someone didn't knock it over in all those years. Second, the laws of gravity and geometry are real and it is never a good idea to ignore them. Build a wider, deeper platform out of brick and put plywood on the face if you want to appear solid. This was not a case of you weren't there so you don't know the facts. The FACTS speak for themselves. Someone cut a budget corner, and a lot of someones ignored the potential problems that decision created. Now a priceless antiquity has been essentially destroyed by the very people who claim to be experts in how to preserve priceless works of art.

  19. ….they just decided that a statue of David was ugly and broke it…

    …..maybe some more context? Cause that kinda freaked me out, you can't just decided that a statue is ugly and destroy it?

  20. God I can only imagine the horror and heartbreak when you first step into that room and see that statue in pieces on the floor. Awesome conservation job though!!

    I hope this incident causes a system of regular inspection of pedastals and stands and structures to be put in place to protect other pieces from this kind of accident.

  21. I still can't believe how scandalous this is , really ??? no- one has time to check the pedestals ? They leave some poor guy to just plonk the one ton sculpture on some plywood ? really ? It would be too bad to say 'heads should roll' because they did ! and arms and legs ,,

  22. And they are congratulating themselves ! God knows how many other things are damaged and repaired without telling !

  23. 4:50 shows really realistic marble sculpture… "this very ugly marble statue of david, we broke that david"

  24. I really dont get the significance of old art, like honestly why do people care so much this statue broke? Why do people care so much about old art in general?

  25. The most confusing part was the sudden catastrophic failure of the plywood box. What information could it possible have had on Hillary Clinton?

  26. When they pulled out the 3D modeling and mentioned they kept every single piece I guess I was a little disappointed they disnt end up genuinely rebuilding the entire thing seamlessly using those fragments rather than just putting in a plaster filling in the gaps.

  27. What a waste of time, money and resources because some numpty put the sculpture on a weak plywood plinth….. seems ridiculous… 😖

  28. What A Bunch Of Incompatint Idiots! Scientific Studies About Glue And Supporting Rods But Couldn't Manage To Build A Support Structure Properly. Typical Reactive Instead Of Proactive

  29. kudos to the consevators, but I can't help to be angry at the museum's display management. How is it that they didn't regularly check on the pedestal of a piece of such importance? Why would they trust a 60 year old structure so blindly? A solid pedestal should've been implemented. This was a highly preventable incident.

  30. An exceptional effort by the conservators, the statue if someone did not know it had been broken in many places, likely would have no idea. And the masterwork lives on. Also, the new techniques they used, repairs which likely would have been nearly impossible perhaps only twenty years ago. Bravo!

  31. Thank you, Met Museum for this fascinating video. Thank you experts for your inspiring and worthwhile endeavours to preserve and restore beauty.

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