Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Resurrection of a Sculpture

Tulio Lonbardo (circa 1455-1532) was one of the most important sculptors of the Rennaissance.  He was commissioned in the early 1490’s to create a large marble sculpture of Adam for the tomb of Andrea Vendramin, the Doge of Venice.   

Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Joseph Coscia, Jr.
Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Joseph Coscia, Jr.

Late in the day of October 6, 2002 the wooden pedestal on which this life size sculpture stood at the Metropolitan Museum collapsed. It was both a tragic and embarrassing event for the Museum.  When it hit the floor of the Patio from the Castle of Vélez Blanco (formerly known as the Blumenthal Patio after its donor), the head separated from the body.  Jack Soultanian, who headed the restoration project, told the New York Times that there were 28 recognizable pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments.  As the head was being placed back on the torso the Museum Director Thomas P. Campbell together with Conservators Michael Morris, Carolyn Riccardelli, and Lawrence Becker looked on.

Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Christopher Heins.

At first it was thought to be a total loss but one does not give up so easily on a masterpiece that has been called the most important piece of Renaissance sculpture in North America.  Jack, with the backing of the Director at the time, Philippe de Montebello, assembled a team to do the necessary research to begin a painstaking restoration.  In the end, it took a team of conservators, conservation scientists, engineers and curators 12 years to complete.

Carolyn Riccardelli, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan’s recent press release mentions that the tomb was originally located in Santa Maria dei Servi and then moved to the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the early 19th century.  By 1821 Adam had been removed from the monument and brought to the Verndramin Calergi palace.  In 1844 it was acquired along with the entire palace by the Duchesse de Berry and Adam descended through future generations of her family.  He eventually arrived in Paris and was acquired by Henry Pereire, a French railway tycoon.  The press release goes on to say that the sculpture was sold in 1935 to an art dealer and the Met purchased it the following year.   What they do not mention is that the dealer was Hans Stiebel of the firm that became Rosenberg & Stiebel.  Hans was my uncle and he had two house-guests at the time, his brother and sister-in-law (my father and mother).

The reason this has always interested me is that as I grew up I heard the story more than once that my mother dried her stockings by hanging them over Adam’s arm, a practice that might be frowned on today .   My father told me that one day a French dealer came in by the name of François Germain Seligman, a member of the famous Seligmann family of art dealers.  He said, “vous pouvez le considérer comme vendus” (you can consider it as sold), a boast that some dealers make if they really want to take a work of art from another dealer on consignment without paying for it up front.  In this case, he succeeded but my parents never knew where it went until they emigrated to New York, and visited the Metropolitan Museum.  There they were surprised to find their long lost friend!

Needless to say the Met is making a great fuss about the resurrection of the Tulio and a special exhibition has been arranged around it.  It is also the subject of Volume 49 of the 2014 Museum Journal as well as past and future lectures.

The museum chose to bring the Adam back at the same time as they were creating a new Venetian and northern Italian sculpture gallery.  For 8 months Adam will have the room to himself with didactic panels giving an in depth account of its restoration using text and digital screens.  Later other important pieces will join him but Adam will continue to be the focal point of the gallery which he must feel is his due after his ordeal!

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