The Ecce Homo Dilemma: Spain Puzzles over an Art Disaster Gone Viral

After a failed restoration job made international front pages, conservationists, art critics and tourism officials all have their opinion on what to do with the fresco

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AFP / GETTY IMAGES

It was the botch job heard around the world. So laughably executed was Cecilia Giménez’s supposed restoration of a fresco titled Ecce Homo that it appeared on the cover of newspapers from New York to Sydney, launched a Twitter contest with over 2,000 entries to date and made its way onto an extended sketch on the Conan O’Brien show. A foodstall in Madrid is even selling crepes burnished with the image. But all the media attention directed at what Spanish wits have dubbed Ecce Mono (the original title translates as “Behold the Man”; the revised version as “Behold the Monkey”), has left the city of Borja, located roughly 60 km northwest of Zaragoza with a dilemma: What the heck do they do with the thing now?

The story of the restoration-gone-awry is by now familiar. Noticing that humidity in Borja’s Misericordia church was damaging the image, octogenarian Giménez took it upon herself to make some improvements. In fact, with the parish priest’s approval, she had touched up the painting on previous occasions, but always confined her brushstrokes to Christ’s robes. This time, however, she started in on Jesus’ face. “She says it looks that way because she hadn’t finished yet,” says art conservator Encarna Ripollés whose company, Albarium, was commissioned to produce a report on the updated fresco. “Of course, if she had, that would have been even worse.”

(MORE: Now You Too Can Restore Your Own Ecce Homo Fresco)

Earlier this week, Ripollés and her partner turned in a draft version of their findings (they are still awaiting the results of chemical analyses) to the foundation that oversees the sanctuary and will decide what measures to take. In the report, they laid out three possibilities for the work: get rid of Giménez’s “restoration” and repair the original; leave the painting as is, or attempt a riskier operation called strappo. “As an art conservator, I have to say that in any other case, the preferred option would clearly be to remove the new painting and restore the work to its previous condition,” Ripollés says. “But this isn’t an ordinary case.”

No, it’s not. The media attention that the touch-up has received has prompted an online petition urging that the new painting be preserved, many of whose signatories (22,000 and climbing), insist that Giménez’s version is every bit as artistic as the original, painted by 19th century artist Elías García Martínez. “In his wildest dreams, Damien Hirst couldn’t have imagined such an impact,” wrote Alegría Lacoma on the petition website. “This work brings together, in one shot, all the trends in avant-garde art.” The new version has also brought hundreds of visitors to Borja. “It’s been very surprising,” says Leandro Galindo, Borja city councilman for social services. “Last week we had all these tourists who were on vacation, and now we’ve got school groups lining up to come see it.”

(MORE: Worst. Restoration. Ever. Elderly Woman Botches Touch-Up Job on 19th Century Church Fresco)

Galindo believes the foundation will eventually opt for the strappo technique, which involves gluing a piece of canvas to the painted image, then peeling it off along with a thin layer of pigmented plaster — Giménez’s version, in this case — and leaving the original intact. The image on the canvas could then be transferred to another place on the wall. “It’s a little unusual, but theoretically at least, it would allow you to keep both paintings,” says Ripollés. Although the technique is frequently used with damaged frescoes, in this case — because of the wall’s dampness and the deteriorated state of the original (especially after Giménez brushed away its flaking paint) — it carries a marked risk of destroying one or both works.

Which is why, councilman Galindo says with the air of a man who knows a stroke of luck when he sees it, he expects that no action will be taken for at least the next couple of months. “There are a lot of people who want to visit it,” he says. “We don’t want to ruin that.”

MORE: Top 10 Art Accidents

22 comments
Francisco Po Egea
Francisco Po Egea

¡How stupid to call this an art disaster!, No art, no disaster.

This is really an unimportant affaire. 

It is just a little joke.

Comeon Lisa and Time ¿Are not there in Spain , in the world much more important issues?. F. poegea

Pintete
Pintete

Please, is this the most relevant news about Spain now? No, it isn't. Of course, we can talk about Art, Philosophy and Tourism as regards the "Purported Restoration", but I am dissapointed of this stupid distortion of real news.

Rafael De Juan Cebrian
Rafael De Juan Cebrian

La  pintura original no tenia ningun valor y se iba a perder por estar pintada al oleo directamente sobre la pared. Este asunto no tiene ninguna inmportancia , no puedo comprender la enorme divulgacon  que ha tenido

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momotara
momotara

The priest who gave permission for this horror should be talked to by Rome.  Who gives an amateur a free hand to "restore" a priceless piece of art?  Really, is this guy in his right mind.  I cannot fault the lady for wanting to do a mitzva for the church, but really!?!  

cherrywoman22
cherrywoman22

 I have no idea how people can even consider the botched version "every bit as artistic as the original". I would love to find the website in Spanish so I could voice my opinion a bit more strongly. It's really sad how the "touched up" 'version turned out .

Robert Hubbard
Robert Hubbard

Oh come on, the only reason to keep the changes is so people can laugh at the old woman and make themselves feel better because then they can believe they aren't as stupid as someone else. 

Jacques
Jacques

Why people are lamenting about this art masterpiece?

In my opinion Picasso and many others certainly wouldn't have done better, but probably UGLIER if not even blasphemous.

As an example, consider the "Piss Christ" of Serrano.

Thanks God, this purported masterpiece was destroyed by a commando of catholic faithfuls.

bluesuede
bluesuede

Never seeing the original before, I am so pleased to find that it is so beautiful in depicting the loving, resigned look on Christ's face .  I will bookmark the original painting by Elías García Martínez, and enjoy His beautiful face from now on.

Jeff Jones
Jeff Jones

There are people, or which this woman might be one, that views the world differently. She, like many others, may have a psychological problem that makes her view the world differently as well.

 

Barbara Anne Nadon
Barbara Anne Nadon

Oh my Lord, I wouldn't let this lady butter my toast!  That they are even considering keeping this mess is shameful.

Edilberto Durano
Edilberto Durano

It's good to know that they are keeping both paintings. Both have artistic expressions and both have its own effect on people which is the point in art: the first one is Christ the other one is the Anti-Christ.

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Yacko
Yacko

I dunno, I thought she improved it. Now it is a wonderful piece of outsider art. If only more galleries, museums, other public buildings with art and private collectors would allow rank amateurs to "clean" their paintings, well we could have a far more interesting world.

I was always taken with the "Mona Gorilla" ad in National Lampoon and I am sure, given the opportunity, DaVincis masterpiece could be made to sprout a few hairs.

blair houghton
blair houghton

i suggest allowing it to be painted over by a different artist every month

Ruth Raynor
Ruth Raynor

It's a great metaphor for Christianity. A beautiful vision, distorted and ruined by incompetent but well meaning old people.

Iron_Celt
Iron_Celt

Sounds sort of like our Congress....

prestalex
prestalex

As I see it, God works in mysterious ways, the proof here in this supposedly "botched restoration job". Botched or not botched, people are now taking notice of the painting and bringing much needed bucks (and attention) to this church. I say leave it in its new condition.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

It's fine today if you like drawings made by your kids held up  by magnets on your refrigerator.  I'm not sure it belongs in a church, though.  While she may have had the best of intentions, the destination upon which the road paved by good intentions takes you is what best describes the result of her efforts: Hell.

Jennien
Jennien

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prestalex
prestalex

Wow! So relevant to this article on the botched art restoration job...