If you are a long time reader of my blog, you may be wondering why I have decided to post this travesty to the art world on here. I mean, it’s a poor restoration job, not pleasing to the eye and frankly I think my next door neighbours cat could have probably done a better job…but I find the story of this restoration quite touching, and it also demonstrates really nicely controversy in art and how it can impact peoples lives so dramatically. If you have read any of my publications on the parkstone international’s page, you will know scandal and controversy is something I write about fairly regularly, along with the impact to audiences. So it felt just that I threw my hat in to the ring on this.
The painting started out as a fresco by Elías García Martínez, on one of the internal walls of The Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, a tiny town in North Spain.
The painting, despite what other articles may tell you, was never a master piece, nor was it particularly good, in my opinion.
The picture is supposed to define the moment that Pontus Pilate presents the bound and thorny crowned Jesus to a hostile audience just before his crucifixion. Many, many paintings have this title as a pinnacle point in the story of Jesus. The phrase, literally translated from Latin in the book of John (19:5) and means behold the man.
Depictions vary of this religiously icon painting, but they do all show a stoic Jesus, accepting of his fate. We can see in Martínez’s interpretation, eyes are cast upwards, looking for the strength in his faith to continue his path to rebirth, cloaked in red and simplistic in its visuals. To be honest, the neck looks out of proportion to me, and while obvious of what the painting is about from the title and crown of thorns, this was never going to mark it up there in the art world against other pieces of the same name.
Since time of painting, the fresco had deteriorated, the paint flaking away, and had become somewhat of an eye sore within the church. Step forward Giménez, a well meaning devotee of the church. When this story hit the papers in 2012, I have to say I didn’t pay that much attention, as the piece didn’t capture my eye and the restoration was really just something to mock, so I hadn’t realised that Giménez had decided to undertake the restoration as a good will gesture, rather than someone who had been commissioned to restore it. I have since watched a documentary on this, and read many articles about the events, and I can see the beauty in what came out of it.
Giménez, took it upon herself to refresh the fresco, an avid landscape painter, she felt that she would be able to do the piece some justice, as an act of kindness to the church and wanting to honour the iconography of her faith. Sadly part the way through the restoration, Giménez took a trip away and left the restoration unfinished. The unfinished piece was discovered and reported, meaning on her return she was made a pariah of the town.
The turn of events leading up to this, saw Giménez remove the flaking paint and then start to work on the face, but to dry the paint out she used white spirit which actually just made the paint run and smudge.
Falling in to a depression, Giménez retreated from the community, feeling that she was outcast for her attempts in a good deed. What happened next, I don’t think anyone could predict. A local news company picked up on the failed restoration attempted and reported on it, snowballing in to a media sensation. Soon the church found visitors coming from far and wide to view the “Potato Jesus” or the “Monkey Jesus”, and exhausted church wardens were having to watch as visitors gathered daily. Shortly it was decided to charge a Euro to see the restoration and from there the towns tourism soared. Due to the popularity of this poor fresco, merchandise was made and reporters inundated Giménez to understand her motivation. Around the world memes and comedy videos were made of the piece, creating a social media whirlwind.
This boost, enhanced the towns economics and threw it in to the limelight, and still, 6 years later people turn up in droves to see possible the most famous restoration ever completed.
Giménez has now made peace with what happened, and even has displayed some of her own art work in exhibitions around the world. She sees this as a miracle, sent to help the town and her get over the loss of her disabled children. Many good things have come out of this, out side of the exhibitions, a comedy opera has been created, for the woman who defected Jesus but saved a town. Life can be funnier than fiction sometimes.
For me, this story is possibly one of the most simple yet telling about how art impacts people’s lives. Starting with a town in uproar over a botch job to a painting that really wasn’t that good to start with. I bet parishioners only walked past that painting when they went to mass, not paying attention to it, nor appreciating its meaning or relevance. Yet they all jumped on the bandwagon of upset when it was massacred by Giménez. I have said in the past, controversy can be the artists best friend, as we have seen in this case, because it urges the public to want to view the piece. It invokes a fascination, the want to see how bad, or how risqué or how grotesque something really is with their own eyes.
So next time someone says to you, that they are not really in to art, ask them if they remember the Ecce Humo, and the bad restoration job that was done on it, I bet they will have seen at least have seen a meme of the fuzzy faced Jesus.
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