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Murillo’s original work (left), the botched restoration and an attempt to fix it. Source: Provided by Collector /Europa Press

Rare 17th Century Painting Deformed in Botched Restoration Job


Yet another piece of valuable Spanish religious art has been destroyed in a botched restoration job. The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables, is a 1678 AD oil painting by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, depicts the Virgin Mary gazing towards the heavens. A private art collector in Valencia, Spain, who owns a copy of the artwork, regretfully paid a furniture restorer 1,200 euros (US$1350) to work on the copy, but the restorer completely disfigured her face. Following this incident, which joins the ranks of a long line of botched restoration jobs, conservation experts in Spain have called for a review of heritage laws.

Some Politicians Don’t Give a Damn

Murillo’s work depicted the Virgin Mary dressed in blue and white with her hands crossed over her bosom, standing on the Moon as she looked towards the heavens. According to an article in The Daily Mail the Spanish art collector who lives in Valencia “was shocked” after the furniture restorer destroyed the delicate face of the Virgin Mary, leaving it “unrecognizable” despite having made two attempts to fix it, both of which only made it worse.

Dr. Fernando Carrera is a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage. When speaking about the botched restoration, he told The Guardian: “I don’t think this guy – or these people – should be referred to as restorers. They're bodgers who botch things up.” Dr. Carrera, who used to be the president of Spain's Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (Acre), also made reference to the fact that the law allowed people without the necessary skills to conduct restoration projects. “Can you imagine just anyone being allowed to operate on other people? Or someone being allowed to sell medicine without a pharmacist's license? Or someone who's not an architect being allowed to put up a building?" he asked in The Guardian. In describing the root of this problem, Dr. Carrera also declared that "some politicians don't give a t*ss about heritage.”

Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez was destroyed in 2012 by a botched restoration attempt. (Left; Public Domain. Right; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez was destroyed in 2012 by a botched restoration attempt. (Left; Public Domain. RightCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Jesus the Beast and Other Botched Jobs

A July 2019 Artnet article features “the 17 most bizarre and completely outlandish art restoration fails of all time”. This illustrious award is given to another now infamous failed restoration of a painting in the town of Borja, located in northern Spain. In August 2013, pensioner Cecilia Giménez sought permission from her priest “to touch up” a 120-year-old fresco, “Ecce Homo” (“Behold The Man”) by Elías Garcia Martínez, that was located in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy. However, Giménez’s good intentions backfired when the amateur artist all but obliterated Jesus’ face, transforming him into what locals describe as beastly. Locales even likened the altered fresco to “a monkey or a hedgehog”, according to The New York Times.

Unforeseen in the “Ecce Homo” case was the sharp increase in tourists visiting the region. Ever since this botch job hit the headlines all over the world, over 150,000 curious visitors have paid €1 ($1.13) to view the “masterpiece”. Furthermore, Giménez has become a local hero and was commissioned to design logos for the local winery, and the distorted face of Jesus “the beast” even features on the towns lottery tickets.

Colombian Transsexual Saint Causes Controversy

Also ranking high among the very worst restorations mess-ups, is the “glammed-out” Saint Anthony of Padua in Colombia. Also known as Anthony of Lisbon, Saint Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan Order. The statue was unveiled last year at a church in Soledad, Colombia, after the parish had sent it out for repairs due to termite damage. When the statue was returned the members of the church were “horrified” to find that their 150-year-old sculpture had been given an over-the-top garish facelift, with both the saint and baby Jesus in his arms porting excessive black eye shadow, blush, and lipstick.

The ‘restoration’ of St. Anthony of Padua in Colombia. (Juan Duque via Artnet)

The ‘restoration’ of St. Anthony of Padua in Colombia. (Juan Duque via Artnet)

This botched restoration is thought to have cost just $328. The artwork's new effeminate appearance, practically “deformed the original features of the saint”, according to former secretary of culture, Giovanni Montero when speaking to local news outlet Semana. In an All World Report article one church goer explained: “He is no longer the same patron that I have prayed to for the last 12 years, they applied eye shadow, blush and even gloss on his lips, he looks effeminate.” Another parishioner said the makeover had turned San Antonio into “a saint of modern times, a transsexual saint.”

Top image: Murillo’s original work (left), the botched restoration and an attempt to fix it. Source: Provided by Collector /Europa Press

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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