Botched Art In Spain: When Restoration Goes Wrong

Photo of Tara Jessop
28 December 2016

The Spanish Heritage community are up in arms once again as details emerge of another botched art restoration at the hands of a well-wishing member of the public. This latest example comes just a few years after the Spaniard Cecilia Gimenez made headlines for her attempt to restore an ancient fresco in her local church.

The news spread via social media that a 17th century statue of Saint Michael the Archangel had undergone a recent makeover that left much to be desired. The relic belongs to the Chapel of Humilladero in the Spanish town of Peñaranda de Bracamonte, in the province of Salamanca, and until recently the botched restoration had seemingly gone unnoticed with neither the local authorities nor the parish being aware.

The discovery was made when a group of heritage experts visited the church and noticed the amateur paint techniques that included the statue’s change in hair color and severe black eyebrows. It is unclear what paint was used for the operation but doubts have been raised over the adequacy of the materials. The heritage experts have bemoaned what they see as serious vandalism, explaining that the lack of legal protection for some of Spain’s most precious artifacts leaves much of the country’s cultural heritage vulnerable to these kinds of acts.

Ecce Homo restoration | © cea + / WikiCommons

This latest case is a reminder that Spain is no stranger to DIY restoration projects on precious artefacts. In 2012, Cecilia Gimenez made international news when her attempt to restore an early 20th century ‘Ecce Homo’ fresco, depicting Jesus Christ, was discovered in her local church in Borja. Although the original painting was not particularly valuable, or considered to be of particular artistic significance, the story drew wide-spread media attention for its lack of resemblance to the original; with some claiming the face had been ‘disfigured’. The story became something of an internet sensation with a number of popular memes going viral for weeks afterwards.

Castillo de Matrera en Villamartín | © Ignacio Palomo Duarte / WikiCommons

Another story of controversial Spanish renovation made the headlines in 2016 when images emerged of a 14th century Moorish castle that had recently been renovated by the owner. The building, which was previously in poor condition and falling to ruins, was subject to a makeover by a team of local builders on the request of the castle’s private owner. The result was the subject of both public outcry and admiration – the project was awarded the prize for ‘Architecture + Preservation’ by the renowned New York-based A+Architizer.

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