ZARAGOZA, Spain — In what appears to be one art lover's grassroots attempt to restore Elias Garcia Martinez’s fresco “Ecce Homo” in the Sanctuary of the town of Borja’s Mercy Church near Zaragoza, Spain, a retiree took out her paint brushes and all but obliterated the over 100-year-old depiction of Jesus. The results are art historically disastrous, and such is the furor over the mishap that Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones suggested today, tongue firmly in cheek, that Borja's amateur art restorer be hired by other localities with worthy artworks that needed some international attention. It has to be mentioned, however, that the updated monkey-like Christ has a freakish new power all its own, and may be its own kind of metaphor for modern man.
How did it happen? The alleged culprit, octogenarian Cecilia Gimenez, claims she had permission from the priest to complete the restoration. She was upset over the deterioration seen in the fresco due to weather-related damage. The painter’s granddaughter, Teresa Garcia — who ironically had recently given the church an endowment to professionally restore the work — told reporters that Gimenez had previously tackled the Jesus’s tunic in the fresco, which though visibly altered, did not damage the painting nearly to the extent to which her more recent facelift did.
As for the results, in its “retouched” state, Jesus’s crown of thorns has merged with his beard to create what looks like a furry head garment, what BBC reporter Christian Fraser characterized as “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey.” The direction of his eyes has shifted to a preposterous angle, down and to the left towards the beholder, rather than looking to the upper right. The nose is flattened like that of an African mask. Next to the chimp-like headgear, the new painting’s mouth is potentially the strangest alteration: The jaw appears slack with Jesus’s tongue seemingly sticking out in either lifelessness or mockery. All in all, what was a minor work of traditional iconography has become a masterpiece of contemporary surrealism.
According to Juan Maria de Ojeda, a city cultural official who Gimenez contacted after realizing her wrongdoing, the permanence of the damage is yet unknown. Art historians are likely to be sent in the coming days to investigate what type of paint was used and if they will be able to properly bring the fresco back to its original condition. Ojeda said that otherwise, they would cover it with a photograph.