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That's the Virgin Mary? Another botched art restoration in Spain sparks calls for regulation

Unskilled 'restorers' have caused irreparable damage to precious artworks in Spain over the years

Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s original, left, and one of the attempts at restoration. Cedida por Coleccionista / Europa Press 
Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s original, left, and one of the attempts at restoration. Cedida por Coleccionista / Europa Press 

In Spain, another art restoration attempt gone awry has caused conservation experts to call for more regulation of the field.

A copy of a renowned painting by baroque artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo was rendered unrecognisable from its original state after a private art collector asked a furniture restorer to clean it for $1,350 (Dh4,960).

Despite two restoration attempts, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables, which once showed a cherubic portrait of the Virgin Mary, now features the figure with red lips and crooked eyes.

The original, left, and both restoration attempts, right:

Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s original, left, and one of the attempts at restoration. Cedida por Coleccionista / Europa Press 
Cedida por Coleccionista / Europa Press

The botched endeavour recalls the 2012 incident of the “Monkey Christ” in the Spanish town of Borja, where a parishioner tried to restore a faded fresco of Christ by Elias Garcia Martinez titled Ecce Homo that ended up as an ape-like character instead.

A combination of three documents provided by the Centre de Estudios Borjanos on August 22, 2012 shows the original version of the painting Ecce Homo (L) by 19th-century painter Elias Garcia Martinez, the deteriorated version (C) and the restored version by an elderly woman in Spain. An elderly woman's catastrophic attempt to "restore" a century-old oil painting of Christ in a Spanish church has provoked popular uproar, and amusement. Titled "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man), the original was no masterpiece, painted in two hours in 1910 by a certain Elias Garcia Martinez directly on a column in the church at Borja, northeastern Spain. The well-intentioned but ham-fisted amateur artist, in her 80s, took it upon herself to fill in the patches and paint over the original work, which depicted Christ crowned with thorns, his sorrowful gaze lifted to heaven. = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO/ CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS BORJANOS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS = (Photo by - / CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS BORJANOS / AFP)
The original version of the painting Ecce Homo (L) by 19th-century painter Elias Garcia Martinez, the deteriorated version and the restored version by an elderly woman in Spain (right). AFP

In 2018, a 500-year-old statue of the St George in Navarre was mocked online after a restoration transformed the work into a cartoonish figure. The work was done by a local teacher, and the church that commissioned the work, as well as the company responsible, were fined $6,840. The statue was restored back to its original state at an additional cost of $37,000 to the church.

Fernando Carrera, a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, told The Guardian: “We see this kind of thing time and time again and yet it keeps on happening. Paradoxically, it shows just how important professional restorers are.

"We need to invest in our heritage, but even before we talk about money, we need to make sure that the people who undertake this kind of work have been trained in it.”

Carrera said that laws in Spain permit people with no skills or experience in restoration to undertake such projects.

Maria Borja, a vice president at the same school, added that botched restoration attempts are “far more common than you might think” and are only heard of when the mishaps are shared with the press or on social media.

Updated: June 23, 2020 04:28 PM

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