Tempting fate: Treatment of Giovanni della Robbia’s Adam and Eve

Gregory Bailey


Recent examination and treatment of the Walters Art Museum’s relief Adam and Eve (27.219), attributed to the workshop of Giovanni della Robbia and dated to circa 1515, shed new light on the complex history of this object. In 2013, an incident of damage provided the impetus for a year-long effort to examine, document, and treat the relief. The project was completed in close collaboration with Dr. Joaneath Spicer, the James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art.

The relief is permanently installed on a stairway landing in a high-traffic area, hindering access and photography. Examination and treatment were conducted largely in public. Consequently, cleaning methods were restricted to mechanical, aqueous, and low volatile organic compound solvent methods. Examination of cleaned surfaces and glaze analysis by x-ray fluorescence spectrometry provided evidence that many sections of glazed terracotta were manufactured in the 19th century. Provenance research suggests that they were made in Italy in 1870 or before, possibly with the intent of sale to the South Kensington Museum in London (now the Victoria & Albert Museum). Losses and prior restorations were inpainted with only minimal additional filling or resurfacing. As a result, the appearance is unified at a distance; however, damages, restorations, and differences between the two types of terracotta are visible on close inspection.

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2017 | Chicago | Volume 24