MADRID—An elderly woman’s catastrophic attempt to “restore” a century-old oil painting of Christ in a Spanish church has provoked popular uproar, and amusement.
The well-intentioned but ham-fisted amateur artist, in her 80s, took it upon herself to fill in the patches and paint over the original work, which depicted Christ crowned with thorns, his sorrowful gaze lifted to heaven.
Her work done, the “restored” figure looks somewhat like a monkey with fur surrounding a pale face and a child-like drawing of eyes, a cartoon-style nose and a crooked smudge for a mouth.
Titled “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), the original was no masterpiece, painted in two hours in 1910 by a certain Elias Garcia Martinez directly on a column in the church at Borja, northeastern Spain.
It showed its age, too, with humidity in the Iglesia del Santuario de Misericordia gradually eating away at patches of paint.
But the new version has become a national joke, reminiscent of fictional film character Mr. Bean’s comic attempt to restore Whistler’s Mother after he sneezes on it and mistakenly wipes off the face.
“The explanations she gave were incoherent: she said she had been restoring it for years and had to give up before completing it,” said Borja deputy major and culture official Juan Maria de Ojeda, responsible for the church.
Social networks and online news sites were deluged with comments by users, many of whom created their own versions of the restored work incorporating the faces of King Juan Carlos or Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
On his Twitter account, film director Alex de Iglesia joked: “Let her finish it for the love of God.”
The town hall has not yet decided whether to sue over the botch job, which was performed a month ago but has only now hit the headlines in the Spanish press.
“It would be different if it was vandalism,” said the town hall’s De Ojeda. But “she was not trying to denigrate the dignity of the place,” he added.
A team of art restoration experts — professionals this time — will evaluate the damage to see if the work can be restored to its original state, he said.
“More important than the value of the painting itself, is the fact that an uncontrolled action like this can take place,” fretted Manuel Gracia Rivas, head of a Borja heritage study centre, Cesbor, who first sounded the alarm over the impromptu restoration.