Antonio Rizzo was a leading artist in early Venetian Renaissance. Born in Verona, he came to Venice after having resided in Padua, where he had the opportunity to see the sculptures by Donatello in the Basilica del Santo and Mantegna’s frescoes in the Eremitani Church. He certainly visited Florence, where he admired the work of Luca della Robbia and Desiderio da Settignano. In 1465, Doge Cristoforo Moro commissioned Antonio Rizzo three altars in St. Mark’s Basilica. In 1469, he replaced Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino as head sculptor for the Foscari Arch, working on the façade overlooking the courtyard of the Ducal Palace.
One of his first works for the Foscari Arch was the sculpture of Mars, completed in 1470, in a style still evidently derived from Donatello and Mantegna. In the sculpture of Adam instead we can clearly detect the influence of Antonio Pollaiolo, supporting the hypothesis that Rizzi must have visited Florence a second time around 1470. In Florence, Rizzo must have seen also the classic sculpture of the Medici Venus, which inspired his Eve. The statues of Adam and Eve were originally placed in the niches of the eastern façade of the Foscari Arch, opposite the Giant’s Staircase, also by Rizzo, in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale. They are in white Carrara marble, at the time a very precious material, reserved for particularly important works.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the marble surface of the statues was already in poor condition due to exposure to the weather. Luckily, the sculptures were repositioned inside Palazzo Ducale and replaced with bronze copies. In some photos of the early twentieth century, when the marble statues were still in the original position, it is possible to detect darker patinas on the surface, due to pollution, alternating with white spots caused by rain water. The white areas were covered with a dark oily pigment, applied to all of the sculptures, probably to make the color uniform. Also visible are numerous linear scratches made by the iron blades used to produce plaster casts of the statues.
Between 1960 and 1963, the statue of Mars was also replaced with a bronze copy and repositioned inside Palazzo Ducale.
From 2015 to 2019, the three sculptures were restored. The work took place in the Liagò of Palazzo Ducale, which for the occasion was transformed into a temporary restoration workshop open to the public. After the preliminary analyses by the CNR of Milan, and the X-rays and surveys by University of Padua, it was decided to remove the gray and black artificial patina through laser cleaning. The restoration was carried out by Jonathan Hoyte, under the technical supervision of a scientific committee consisting of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per il Comune di Venezia e Laguna, Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze. The restoration was financed by Venetian Heritage thanks to the support of archistar Peter Marino, Chairman and President of Venetian Heritage Inc., New York.
The three statues are now exhibited in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio at Palazzo Ducale in Venice.