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Reconstruction of Tullio's Adam

Tullio Adam FEA

On November 10, 2014, The Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled a reconstructed statue of Adam, created by 15th-century Renaissance sculptor Tullio Lombardo. In 2002, the pedestal on which the statue was displayed collapsed and Adam fell to the floor, breaking into 28 large pieces and hundreds of small fragments.  What followed was a twelve-year effort that has in many ways changed the world of monumental stone sculpture conservation.

One of the many innovations employed by the conservation team was digital scanning of the statue fragments. The scans of the individual fragments were used to reassemble the statue in digital form. With this virtual model of Adam, the team wanted to evaluate the strength of the "joins" between the major fragments and determine if traditional pinning methods were required. 

One of the most important goals of the conservation treatment was to employ repair methods that were fully reversible whenever possible. However, pinning joins requires drilling holes in the marble, permanently removing original material.  With this in mind, the Met's team of conservators had chosen to use pins only in areas where they were deemed absolutely necessary.  The question then became: Which joins needed a pin and which would be strong enough with adhesive only? 

The conservators turned to CAE Associates for the strength analysis of the critical joins of the statue. Using the digital model of the assembled pieces, CAEA's Pat Cunningham and Mike Bak created structural finite element models of the entire statue, with particular focus on the left ankle and left knee. By parametrically defining the pin size and location in the joins, CAE Associates provided the Met's conservators with a tool that could evaluate the need the for pins as well as determine the optimum numbers of pins, their size and location.

Another important unknown was the effect of interlocking of the join surfaces. Marble is brittle, and when the statue shattered, much of base material between the larger sections was obliterated leaving gaps at the joins.  The adhesives used would ideally fill in the gaps, but this would be difficult to confirm.  Using the analytical model, CAE Associates bounded the problem by comparing uneven representations of the joints and aligned interfaces with and without adhesive.  In order to accomplish this CAE Associates had to develop a method for creating the interlocking interfaces in the geometry. 

CAE Associates then performed "what if" studies to help the conservators understand the redistribution of the load path in the statue if any of the joins debonded over time. With this understanding, the Met conservators were able to move ahead with confidence that once reassembled Adam would remain whole. 

"The Tullio team at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) had the great privilege of working with CAEA for several years. Pat and Mike were extremely adept at explaining complicated structural and computational issues to art conservators who were initially unfamiliar with many of the concepts of finite element analysis. While they had never worked on a sculpture project before, they worked closely with the MMA team to understand our very specific goals and the ethical requirements of art conservators. In this way, the Tullio project was ultimately a collaboration between art conservators and engineers, each group bringing their expertise to the table. CAEA’s analytical contribution was critical to the Tullio conservation team, allowing them to make difficult decisions that would have a major impact on the treatment of the sculpture. We are indebted to them for their excellent work on this challenging and unusual project."

Carolyn Riccardelli, Conservator, Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.