Disfigured immaculata draws circles

Disfigured immaculata draws circles

Well-trained restorers are not always at work © marcovarro (shutterstock)

In Spain again a religious painting has been defaced by dubious restorers' hands: after an "Ecce Homo" years ago in Aragon, now an "Immaculata" has been hit.

It happened in the year of our Lord 2012, when a story from the village of Borja in Aragon went around the world. Cecilia Gimenez, an amateur restorer who is already well advanced in years, had transformed the image of an "Ecce Homo" into a kind of monkey shape in ignorance of technique and painting. She had approached the work with the consent but without the supervision of the clergy. The result was so incredible and sadly laughable that the painting – fueled by the media – triggered a boom in visitors.

Self-taught restorers at work

In 2019, another failed restoration aroused the minds of art experts. This time two sculptures of a Catholic church in the town of Lora del Rio in the province of Seville were affected. The wooden figures from the 18. Century show St. Joseph and St. Mary of Egypt. As can be seen in before-and-after photos, the originally discreet and filigree art treasures were roughly painted over with bright colors. Once again, a self-taught restorer was responsible.

Damage to valuable art treasures

In expert circles and in the social networks the indignation was great. Important works of art should not be put into the hands of dilettantes. The Spanish restorers' association ACRE has long criticized a "disastrous" trend toward amateurish restorations of even the most valuable art treasures. Such interventions by "incompetent" personnel are an "attack on the cultural heritage" of the country. Mostly church art is affected.

Malformed Immaculata

But already makes again an amateurish assault on the cultural property headlines. This time it concerns the valuable copy of an "Immaculata" by the baroque painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-1682). A private collector from Valencia had hired a restorer for a fee of 1.200 euros entrusted to clean the image. However, the commissioner was more specialized in refurbishing old mirrors and pieces of furniture. The result: a misshapen "Immaculata", aged by years, with disfigured facial features – hardly recognizable.

Speaking to the newspaper La Vanguardia, Maria Borja, vice-president of the Association of Professional Restorers, regretted that incidents like this are "unfortunately much more common" than people think; they rarely come to public attention.

Intent behind defacement?

Serious evaluations like these are surely correct. But it cannot be ruled out that the disfigurement – perhaps even as a set-up – was done on purpose in order to do business with it. The sanctuary of Borja was a "model" in this respect: To date, it has far more than 200.000 paying visitors attracted to see the irreparably disfigured sufferer of the "Ecce Homo. This dubious success could call other imitators on the plan.

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