Art restoration is one of those things that’s surprisingly entertaining. I’m not much of an art buff, and whenever someone starts talking about the “classics” I think they’re referring to the original Robocop and Predator movies.
To me, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael are famous artists second and crime-fighting anthropomorphic Turtles first.
But I still love me a good art restoration story. Just look at this art dealer delicately removing varnish from an old painting.
It’s super satisfying to watch, even to a boorish non-appreciator of art such as myself, and it’s nice to see that treasured artistic accomplishments of humans from hundreds of years ago are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Which is probably why it’s so appalling, and morbidly funny, when someone goes and ruins an old piece of art in a pitiful attempt to restore it. Which is exactly what happened at the Church of San Miguel de Estella in Navarre, Spain.
The Parish houses a 500-year-old sculpture of Saint George riding a horse and fighting a dragon. Typical epic biblical stuff. Here’s what it looked like prior to the restoration.
Now when it comes to restoring art that old, you need to hire a professional. Someone with a proven track record of delicately handling priceless works of art. There’s a level of detail, subtlety, tact, a complexity and care that needs to be upheld when dealing with restoring a work that dates back hundreds of years.
The parish decided to select a local art teacher for the job, which resulted in less-than-stellar results. How less-than-stellar? Well, take a look for yourself and you decide.
That’s right, St. George looks just as flabbergasted by the job as everyone else who saw it the first time.
The elementary-school-level paint job was panned by the local municipality’s mayor, Koldo Leoz, who didn’t understand why the Parish just didn’t ask for help from local government officials to hire someone who was actually qualified for the job.
He even suggested that the sculpture could’ve sustained some damage as a result of the artist’s choice of materials for the restoration.
“[T]he restoration leaves much to be desired. [B]eing 16th-century polychrome sculpture, you have to be very careful with the choice of materials, or you can lose the entire original layer.”
Leoz also said that the choice of restoring a piece of priceless artwork shouldn’t be solely left up to the church, but the public should have a say as well, since the sculpture is a huge part of the locality’s cultural history.
“From a cultural, historical and artistic point of view what happened is a pity. In my opinion, it’s an example of the power that churches have over the fate of cultural heritage that should be in the hands of public administration; because the vast majority of churches, and the artworks within them, have regularly received money from the citizens and we should have control over them so that this kind of thing does not happen.”
People meme’d the heck out of the restoration fail, and they didn’t pull any punches about how cartoonish it looked.
In case you were wondering if Spain was home to any other art restoration fiascos, you might remember the notorious “Beast Jesus” blunder that occurred back in 2012.
The whack paint job that St. George received is nowhere near as bad as the “what was she thinking?” job performed by Cecilia Gimenez in the small town of Borja, Spain.
However, the viral trend ultimately ended up benefiting Bourja, as tourists lined up, and continue to visit the ruined Ecce Homo painting. Posters detailing the history behind the disaster story were printed and translated into 15 different languages.
Gimenez ultimately came to terms with the ridicule she received from the painting, especially seeing how much its benefiting her home town, “sometimes, after seeing it for so long, I think to myself, son of mine, you are not as ugly as I thought you were in the beginning.”
It wouldn’t be an art-tragedy piece without mentioning another recent infamous sculpture: the bust of Cristiano Ronaldo that welcomed travelers at Madeira airport.
The artist, Emmanuel Santos eventually redid his work and provided an updated, not-so-hey-you-guys-from-the-Goonies-looking bust of the sports icon to replace his original creation that was lambasted by everyone on the internet.
Santos was reportedly “very sad” that his original work was asked to be removed, and, as it turns out, so were a bunch of other people. An online petition was soon started to bring the original Ronaldo statue back.
“We consider that the bust is more an attraction for our island today and we cannot accept in any way its replacement,” the petition says.
Our generation’s penchant for liking things ironically is going to pave the way for the ugliest art we’ve seen in centuries. I’m kind of OK with it.