This week, Spain has become the subject of scrutiny after revealing a restoration job that went horribly wrong. Carved into the facade of an early 20th-century building located in the city of Palencia, sat a sculpture of a young woman tending to her livestock.
In an attempt to restore the face of the woman after years of exposure and damage to the elements, the city council called in an unnamed ‘restoration expert’ to help transform the sculpture to its former glory. Alas, the restoration went terribly wrong.
With the revealing of the restoration came a flood of comments from social media users, comparing it to ‘My Potato Head’ or ‘Sand sculptures kids do on the beach’. One Twitter user compared the new facelift to Donald Trump. While artist Antonio Guzmán Capel likened it to a cartoon character. The restoration even became a meme: Russell Brandom posted a before and after photo with the caption, ‘Me in January vs. me now’.
But this isn’t the first botched restoration jobs we have come across. In fact, there have been quite a few blunders in the past. To celebrate the unveiling of the ‘Potato Head of Palencia’, we take a look back at some of the more disastrous art restoration projects.
A FRESCO OF JESUS CHRIST IN BORJA
Spain is home to quite a few art restoration disasters. One of the more well-known projects that went horribly awry was of a fresco of Jesus Christ titled ‘Ecce Homo’ or ‘behold the man’, in Borja, Zaragoza.
In 2012, an 82-year-old amateur painter, Cecilia Giménez, attempted to restore the fresco, which was painted on the wall of her local church.
After the botched facelift, ‘Ecce Homo’, painted in 1930 by Elías García Martínez, was again met by a social media storm, renaming the work, ‘Monkey Christ’. Giménez was faced with ridicule and shame for her innocent mistake.
But Giménez had the last laugh. In an article published in The New York Times, the restoration job has given the small town a whole new lease of life. Borja, home to only 5,000 inhabitants, has been put on the map. Before COVID, the small town in Northern Spain welcomed 150,000 tourists from around the world, thanks to Ecce Homo’s facelift.
The restoration of ‘Ecce Homo’ has become the logo of Borja, the image printed on every lotto ticket and used on wine labels from local winemakers. It’s become a pop icon, and it’s all thanks to Cicilia Giménez. According to The New York Times, “Mrs. Giménez — known, Madonna-like, simply as Cecilia — is celebrated each year by residents on Aug. 25, the day of her transfiguration. A comic opera is in the works in the United States, the story of how a woman ruined a fresco and saved a town.”
THE DECAPITATION OF BABY JESUS
In October 2015, On the grounds of Ste. Anne des Pins Roman Catholic church in Ontario, Canada, a statue of Mary and Baby Jesus received its very own restoration job.
The statue, which was created during the mid-20th century, was a target of vandals over the years. The head of Baby Jesus was repeatedly knocked off, but never strayed too far from the statue.
On 30th October 2015, the head was once again decapitated, but this time, it was nowhere to be found. Replacing the whole statue would have cost a fortune, and that’s when local artist Heather Wise, offered up her restoration services.
Wise told Sudbury.com, “I was so sad,” she said. “My feelings were hurt when I saw it because I thought ‘Who would do that?’ It’s just not a positive feeling to see that. I said ‘I’m an artist, I would like to fix it.’
Wise fashioned a temporary placeholder out of terracotta clay before carving a permanent replacement out of stone.
Only a few days after the unveiling of the terracotta addition, the original Baby Jesus head was returned to the church. Father Lajeunesse, the priest at the Ste. Anne des Pins Roman Catholic church, told the Toronto Star “I almost cried” when the original returned.
SANTA BÁRBARA’S MAKEOVER
A statue of Santa Barbara in Brazil’s Santa Cruz da Barra Chapel received a total transformation back in 2012.
The restoration of the 19th century wooden statue took place over a six month period by conservators from the Museu Histórico do Exército in Rio. The project involved removing four layers of paint to restore the original appearance of the statue.
However, the results of the makeover left visitors flabbergasted. Santa Barbara now has porcelain white skin, heavy eyeliner, over-plucked eyebrows, bright red lipstick and a garish robe.
A horrified historian Milton Teixeira told the local newspaper Veja, “They turned Santa Barbara into Barbie!”
SAINT GEORGE IN SHOCK
Spain once again had us all perplexed after a restoration on the statue of Saint George at Navarre’s Church of San Miguel de Estella left the saint looking quite traumatised.
The 500-year-old wooden statue of the legendary St. George was in desperate need of a restoration job back in 2018 but instead of hiring an expert, the church offered the job up to a local teacher.
The results of the finished project became an internet sensation overnight, comparing it to a Disney cartoon character. Saint George now has a pink face, beady eyes and sports a gaudy red and grey suit of armour.
The church and the company responsible were each fined €6,000 and the statue was sent away for three months for an expert restoration job.
“It’s been a long process because we had to do preliminary tests and take samples to see how we could go about cleaning it and to determine which would be the best materials and methods,” Carlos Martínez Álava, head of the Navarre government’s historic heritage department, told the Guardian. “Today, the statue has the same colours it had before last year’s extremely unfortunate intervention. But we know that we’ve lost part of the original paint along the way.”