A copy of a 17th century Spanish art masterpiece of the Virgin Mary has been rendered unrecognizable after the owner of the painting paid a furniture restorer to clean the work.
A private art collector in Valencia, Spain, wanted his copy of “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial” by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo cleaned.
What he got for the roughly $1,300 he shelled out was a painting that, despite two attempts by the unnamed individual who worked on it, bore little resemblance to the face of Mary in the original, according to The Guardian.
— Ian Pippin (@Ianpippin) June 23, 2020
Spain has had art restoration disasters before.
In 2012, parishioners in the Spanish town of Borja ruined a centuries-old image of Christ on the local church wall.
Not “quite” as bad as “Monkey Christ”! pic.twitter.com/DdLBtipg3K
— Derek MacEwen 🍁 (@DerekMacEwen) June 23, 2020
A 6th-century wooden figure of St. George at St. Michael’s Church in Estella, Spain, suffered a similar fate.
— National Post (@nationalpost) June 27, 2018
Fernando Carrera, a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, said Spain needs to take some sort of action to protect its heritage from hacks who do not know what they are doing.
“I don’t think this guy — or these people — should be referred to as restorers,” Carrera told The Guardian. “Let’s be honest: they’re bodgers who botch things up. They destroy things.”
“Can you imagine just anyone being allowed to operate on other people? Or someone being allowed to sell medicine without a pharmacist’s license? Or someone who’s not an architect being allowed to put up a building?” he said.
“Paradoxically, it shows just how important professional restorers are. We need to invest in our heritage, but even before we talk about money, we need to make sure that the people who undertake this kind of work have been trained in it.”
In a statement on its website, Spain’s Association of Conservators and Restorers said the government must protect rare artwork from destruction in the guise of restoration.
The statement said those who protect rare art “would have to regret, once again, the loss of a Cultural Asset and, under these circumstances, we request not to take this instance as a social and media source of fun, as happened already formerly. Moreover, we all must be alarmed to think that our Heritage [is] disappearing because [of] these disastrous actions.”
“We want to emphasize that no professional technician with an Official Academic Training would perform such an attempt against Cultural Heritage. Therefore, [these kinds] of actions must not be mistaken as a Conservation-Restoration intervention, since this would be a false assertion, offensive to our profession and harmful for our Heritage. …
“Thus, we ask the media not to use the term ‘restoration,’ when informing about [these kinds] of actions, which are no other act but of vandalism.”
The statement noted that the original of the painting is in Spain’s National Museum in Prado.
Holly Witchey, the director of education and outreach at ICA-Art Conservation, a nonprofit conservation laboratory in Cleveland, said it is always serious when a restoration ends in disaster.
“When these things start coming across the wires, it’s always so distressing to conservators. It is sad. You like to see things done right, and this was not done right,” she said, according to The New York Times.
Carrera, however, noted that investing in protecting the nation’s heritage is easier said than done.
“Some politicians just don’t give a toss about heritage,” he said.
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