It was a little known but well-regarded 16th century wooden carving of St George on horseback, battling a dragon, tucked away in a small church in northern Spain.
But the well-meaning restoration efforts of a local handicrafts teacher have left the 500-year old carving in Estella, Navarre, looking more like a cartoon character, attracting global dismay and bringing back bad memories for the Spanish cultural authorities of another church art botch job that caught the world’s attention: the restoration of Ecce Homo, a religious mural in Borja in 2012, that left Christ looking rather more like a monkey than the saviour.
The "unfortunate" restoration of St George at the Romanesque church of San Miguel de Estella was conducted without consultation, according to the town’s mayor Koldo Leoz. An arts-and-crafts workshop company called Karmacolor undertook the work at the behest of the local priest, apparently then handing the job to the local teacher.
“The restoration project should have been presented to the authorities and dependent on their agreement,” Mr Leoz said.
The carving has been given a new paint job in bold colours, attracting comparisons with Walt Disney characters and Playmobil box sets in online memes.
Spain’s art restoration bosses are now considering what action to take.
The Spanish Conservationists and Restorers Association (ACRE) said the botched job showed “an alarming lack of the required training to undertake this kind of intervention”.
ACRE says it has contacted prosecutors in case the restoration fail could constitute “a crime for damage against objects of cultural and historical value”.
Carlos Martínez Álava, the director of Navarre’s heritage department, said his team was now investigating to see if it was possible to “derestore” the carving. Ironically, Mr Martínez Álava said the Saint George had been in good condition before the restoration, “although somewhat dirty”.
But Estella could draw some hope from its artistic shame: Borja and the amateur restorer behind the Ecce Homo notoriety, Cecilia Giménez, have cashed in on what at first glance appeared to be a disastrous assault on the town’s heritage.
Borja now boasts a special museum for tourists anxious to see first-hand the blurry lines of Giménez’s ‘Ecce Homo’, and there has even been an opera about the 2012 debacle.
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