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How art restoration could, at times, do more harm than good

Art rehab can make news for all the wrong reasons. Restoration that misses the mark leads to terrible consequences, like the latest one in Spain, where a woman’s face was compared to a potato

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi |
November 24, 2020 7:10:58 pm
art restoration, recent art restorations, art restorations gone wrong, indian express newsEsteban Murillo’s painting 'The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables' (left), and Leonardo Da Vinci’s 'Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' (right). (Courtesy: Pixabay/Photos: Wikimedia Commons/Designed by Gargi Singh)

The recent botched restoration of a 20th-century statue of a smiling woman on the facade of a bank building in Palencia, Spain, has compelled people to compare it to a potato. We look at some other recent attempts of failed restorations.

* In June this year an art collector in Valencia, Spain, reportedly paid a furniture restorer €1,200 to clean a copy of Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s painting, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables. The face of the original was completely disfigured, and when the owner asked for the work to be redone, it became worse. The incident received a lot of attention, including demand for better regulation for art restorers.

* Last year, a 16th-century sculpture of Saint George in Spain was unrestored after a botched paint job gave it garnish colours, resulting in it resembling the cartoon character Tintin. At St Michael’s Church in Estella, the wooden statue of St. George – venerated as a Christian martyr who killed a dragon to rescue a Libyan king’s daughter – was restored by a local workshop. After its viral photographs created an uproar on social media, the damage was undone by professionals over several months.

* Often considered to be one of the “worst restoration in history”, the botched Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez has become a tourist attraction in the church of Santuario de la Misericordia, Borja, Spain. In 2012, a local elderly lady, Cecilia Gimenez, had attempted to repair the faded mural painted in the church after she noticed it was deteriorating. Though she spent months on it, the rather disastrous results became a laughing stock, with the work being dubbed as “Monkey Christ” or “Potato Christ”.

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* The restoration of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with Saint Anne was rather controversial, with several pointing out that the 1499 oil in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris was left much brighter that the original. Depicting Virgin Mary guarding baby Jesus and sitting on the lap of her mother, the allegedly “overcleaned” restoration led to the resignation of Ségolène Bergeon Langle, former director of conservation for the Louvre and France’s national museums, and Jean-Pierre Cuzin, former director of paintings at the Louvre.

* In 2015, Tutankhamun’s burial gold mask was put back on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after German experts took months to remove the glue applied to hastily join it after it was accidentally knocked during work at the museum in August 2014.

* In 2013, two government officials in China were reportedly sacked for the “unauthorised restoration” of Qing Dynasty fresco at Yenji temple in Liaoning, China. The botched restoration of the Buddhist frescos left with Taoist figures looking disfigured and like “garish cartoons”.

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