Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Restoration Gone Wrong, Goes Right

100 year old Spanish painting of Christ, Ecce Homo, before restoration efforts ("Antes"), and afterwards ("Despues").  This is thought to be the worst art restoration job of all time.  And yet...

More than a year ago, an elderly woman in the small town of Borja, in northeastern Spain, quietly took it upon herself to restore a century-old fresco inside the local church.  Her efforts had mixed results.

The painting, called Ecce Homo, which is Latin for "Behold the Man," is a version of Christ wearing a crown of thorns just before his crucifixion.  Originally done by Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez, the art work had sustained serious water damage over the years.

The would-be restorer, Cecilia Gimenez, is an amateur artist in her 80s and a long-time parishioner of the church.  She was concerned about the deterioration of the fresco and wanted to fix it because, well, she's a fan of Jesus, and it was her favorite painting.

You might wonder what she would do to it if it wasn't her favorite painting.

She labored by herself for several weeks, covering over the damaged parts with new paint.  The results were astonishing.

A BBC reporter declared that the painting resembles a "crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."  Indeed, many people now refer to the painting as Ecce Mono, or "Behold the Monkey."

For a while, authorities in the town considered a vandalism charge against Gimenez, but never followed through.  Giménez later defended herself, saying she could not understand the uproar because she had worked in broad daylight and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergy.

“The priest knew it,” she told Spanish television. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.” 

Cecilia Gimenez, famous restorer of Ecce Homo

All was not lost, in any case.  In the year since the botched job came to light, more than 40,000 tourists have traveled to Borja to see the painting.  The town started charging one euro per visit, and the entry fees have now raised more than 50,000 euros for a local old age home.

Meanwhile, the painting has become such a little cash cow that the town has decided to market it.  They are placing the image on T-shirts, plates, postcards and cigarette lighters, among other items.

Earlier this year, Gimenez and the town fathers came to terms on a merchandising deal to divide up the loot - 51% for the town, 49% for Gimenez.    

"Now it seems that everyone's happy," Gimenez told a reporter for the local newspaper.