Botched Statue of St. George Is ‘Unrestored’ to Its Dignity
LONDON — A 16th-century wooden statue of St. George, venerated as a Christian martyr who killed a dragon to rescue a Libyan king’s daughter, has been unrestored in Spain to all its slightly faded glory after a botched paint job turned it into something resembling the cartoon character Tintin.
The statue’s paint had begun to crack in the small church of St. Michael’s in the village of Estella when a zealous local company set out to restore it last year. The project made headlines around the world when the refurbished statue was unveiled: It had bright, loud colors, including a pink face, and its original shades and traits had been erased.
The botched project was another in a line of art restoration projects gone bad, such as the 2012 defacing of a century-old “Ecce Homo” fresco of Jesus with a crown of thorns that was altered beyond recognition in Spain, leaving the statue with a half-beard and, some say, a monkeylike appearance; and the 2016 restoration of a landmark Spanish castle that made it more closely resemble a multilevel parking garage.
Specialists in the northern Spanish province of Navarra rescued the wooden statue of St. George after a team at the government’s Cultural Department researched the statue’s original colors. They stripped back the vivid layers of paint and reached back in time to the features its sculptor had intended, according to an emailed statement from the provincial government of Navarra on Saturday.
The cost of the painstaking work: 30,000 euros (about $34,000), the statement said.
It began with researching existing photos of the statue. Then, a local company took X-rays of the work, discovering layers of the original paint under the new paint.
Experts also assessed the damage done beyond that visible to viewers, such as the use of materials and processes “completely incompatible with the restoration of works of art,” the statement said.
Because the statue was part of the province’s cultural heritage, the authorities fined those responsible for last year’s restoration effort — the local parish that is home to the statue and the group that carried out the work — 6,000 euros each.
It was far cry from what happened to the Spanish widow, Cecilia Giménez, an amateur painter, who took on the task of freshening up the fresco of Jesus in Sanctuario de la Misericordia, a Roman Catholic church in Borja, near the city of Zaragoza.
Officials at first suspected the result had been an act of vandalism. But the new version of “Ecce Homo” became known as the “Monkey Christ” and inspired memes and even a comic opera.
The town of 5,000 capitalized on the fresco’s notoriety, drawing visitors, selling merchandise and labeling bottles of wine with what locals say has become a pop art icon.
Ms. Giménez even became something of a professional artist, selling an original work depicting a rustic scene and no holy figures or primates on eBay for about $1,400.