At what point is a religious painting so botched that it could actually be considered blasphemous? Because the work done on this 200-year-old Spanish fresco titled “Ecce Homo” certainly fits the bill. Once an austere depiction of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, the Spanish church painting now resembles a hairy monkey wearing a baggy velvet suit and sporting what seems to be a rolled-up carpet for an arm.
Surely 19th-century Spanish artist and lauded art professor Elias Garcia Martinez didn’t create such a flat, featureless alien to adorn a wall in a church in Borja, Spain. And surely it can’t be blamed on years of wear and tear. Yet on Aug. 7, when art officials visited the church of Santuario de la Misericordia in the small town of Borja northeastern Spain, they were stunned by Jesus’s unlikely transformation.
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The touchup, they concluded, was done by a church neighbor who was displeased with the way the “Ecce Homo” fresco had aged. Years of exposure to heat and dust had left whole sections washed away, as the middle image above shows. Art restoration is a touchy, time-consuming process, and Cecilia Gimenez, an octogenarian neighbor of the church, evidently thought she could do better. So, “without asking anyone’s permission,” but having the best of intentions, she tried her hand. She ultimately turned herself in, according to local culture councilor Juan María de Ojeda who spoke to Spain’s El Pais newspaper. She admitted to town administrators that her self-restoration would probably not be too well-received. Even the note she left to accompany her free labor alluded to her rush job: “This is the result of two hours of work,” it read, according to El Pais.
The painting, by 19th-century Spanish artist and noted art professor Elias Garcia Martinez, was never considered priceless — it’s fine work but not a masterpiece, and on the small size for a fresco, measuring only about 20 by 16 inches. But it’s taken on international significance thanks to Gimenez’s amateurish restoration. While much of the world is stunned that a retiree would take her own paintbrush to a 200-year-old work of religious art, Gimenez claims that it was hardly a secret. “The priest knew it, the priest knew it. How could I do it without anyone telling me?” she told a local TV station. “Besides, everyone who entered the church saw me painting.”
Esperanza Gimenez says her sister Cecilia’s intervention happened over the course of four years. Which might explain the middle image above, taken in July, where much of Jesus’ tunic had been rubbed away. But it was only recently that she put on the final touches. Restorers — presumably professional, well-paid ones — have been called in to try to bring the painting back to its original state. Though there is a contingency plan if the restoration is unsuccessful. As councilor Ojeda told the BBC, ”If we can’t fix it, we will probably cover the wall with a photo of the painting.”