Worst restoration in art history

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Next to the altar of the Sanctuary of Mercy in Borja, a small town in northern Spain, is a twentieth-century fresco of little historical or artistic value that has become world famous in the last ten years. The work is called Ecce Homo, depicts half the length of Christ, measuring approximately 60 by 40 centimeters, and was created at the beginning of the twentieth century by Elias Garcia Martinez, a little-known Spanish artist. The reason why it is so well known today is because it is considered to be the worst restored piece of art in the world.

In fact, in August ten years ago, Cecilia Jiménez, an 81-year-old woman dedicated to painting at an amateur level, launched an initiative to restore a mural that had been destroyed by humidity over the years. It completely disfigured him, with such a grotesque result that it was talked about in international newspapers and went viral on social media. However, the unknown sanctuary of Borja has since become a tourist attraction and still receives over ten thousand visitors a year.

The first to denounce the clumsy restoration of Christ Borja was the cultural blog of the local Centro de Estudios Borjanos, who published a post on August 7, 2012 titled “Incredible Fact” that talked about how the fresco was disfigured. unknown. In a couple of weeks in the print edition of the newspaper Herald of Aragon the identity of the author of the intervention was revealed, which was precisely the parishioner Cecilia Jimenez.

Although it is a work of little value, Cecilia Jiménez’s restoration was heavily criticized by the municipality of Borja, some art and restoration professionals, and the heirs of the author of the work, who were fundraising for the restoration at the time. . At first, it was decided to resolve the issue by covering the work with a photograph of the original or intervening further – this time by calling a professional – to save the restored one. However, after a few days it became clear that the potential of the “restored” version is much higher than that of the original painting.

The Centro de Estudios Borjanos attracted a lot of attention from the press and hundreds of spectators who wanted to see Jiménez’s “restoration”. This news was picked up by such Spanish newspapers as World e Country, and journalists from all over the world, from New Zealand to Canada. Correspondent Christian Fraser, who told the news about BBC, he likened the Ecce Homo restoration to “a pastel sketch of a very hairy ape in an inappropriate tunic”.

The case unexpectedly shocked the elderly Jimenez, who spent several days in bed due to panic attacks and depression due to the sudden media coverage and criticism. Jiménez then said that she acted because she could not see how the fresco (which she considered the best depiction of Christ in her area) was destroyed by moisture, and that she intervened by asking permission from the parish priest of the Sanctuary. However, the parish priest told the press that he never agreed to the restoration.

According to what was reported in those days Countrythis was not the first time that Jimenez had interfered with the work, and some knew about it, but until this point, the changes remained barely noticeable because they did not touch the face.

Soon the news spread on social networks, and the restored Christ Borja became a meme. He made jokes, parodies and remakes, and Jimenez became a character with a positive connotation due to his naive resourcefulness. A Facebook group called “Señoras que restauran Cristos de Borja” (“Women Restoring Christ from Borja”) gained 20,000 likes in just a few hours. The hashtag #eccemono, obtained by distorting the original “Homo” into “Mono”, which is Spanish for “monkey”, has gone viral on Twitter.

Cecilia Jimenez with American writer Andrew Flack, who wrote a play based on the story of Christ Borja (EPA/TONI GALAN)

Ryanair took advantage of the media phenomenon to run a very successful advertising campaign in which it offered flights for a few euros to Zaragoza (the nearest airport to Borja) for those who wanted to see the restored Christ in person.

After the peak of tourists in the period from 2012 to 2013, the number of visitors to the reserve has stabilized from 10 to 11 thousand per year. In 2016, a center dedicated to the story of the restored Christ was opened in Borja, and along with the Ximénez restoration, a reproduction of the original image was also on display. The sanctuary also houses a map of the world where visitors can mark their country of origin: there are currently 120 of them.

A temple gift shop was opened selling Ecce Homo themed T-shirts, mugs, bookmarks, pencils, pens, wine and fridge magnets.

“With all due respect to the original painting by Elias Garcia, the most important work now belongs to Cecilia Jimenez,” Mayor Borja commented. More recently, the municipality launched a campaign called “Borja es más” (“Borja more”) to shift all the attention drawn by the restored Christ to other attractions that the city has to offer: gastronomy, wines and other works of artistic value.

In recent years, a visit to Jimenez’s work (which costs 3 euros per visitor) has generated about 40,000 euros a year, part of which is spent on salaries of employees who take care of visiting and maintaining the Sanctuary, and part of this is donated to the municipality’s program for dependent elderly people. A few years ago, Jiménez managed to secure a portion of the copyright for the work and collect a portion of the proceeds due to her, which she donated to a charitable foundation to support patients suffering from a certain disease that her son also suffers from. Then he decided to give up his share of the income and leave it to the municipality.

Thanks to his fame, Jiménez has also managed to sell some of his paintings on eBay. Today she is 91 years old and lives with her sick son in a nursing home.

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