This week the Spanish heritage sector has been left outraged as yet another disastrously botched restoration came to light. Conservation experts are now calling for tighter regulations to prevent this kind of “vandalism” in the future.
A copy of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s (1617-1682) painting of the Virgin Mary is the most recent victim to befall the work of an amateur restorer. The Valencia-based collector who owns the painting paid a well-meaning furniture restorer €1,200 (£1,087) to clean and restore the artwork to its former glory. But the shocked owner soon discovered that the Virgin’s angelic face had instead been “completely disfigured” into a misshapen lump, despite two attempts to repair it.
“I don’t think this guy – or these people – should be referred to as restorers,” asserted Fernando Carrera, a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage. “Let’s be honest: they’re bodgers who botch things up. They destroy things.”
There are currently no laws in Spain to prohibit inexperienced and unqualified people from restoring artwork. Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE) released a statement criticising this lack of regulation, which they said “translates into an absence of protection of our heritage.”
María Borja, one of ACRE’s vice-presidents also explained that this type of bungled restoration in Spain is “unfortunately far more common than you might think…we only find out about them when people report them to the press or on social media.”
As the former president of ACRE, Carrera added: “can you imagine just anyone being allowed to operate on other people? Or someone being allowed to sell medicine without a pharmacist’s licence? Or someone who’s not an architect being allowed to put up a building?”
Whilst acknowledging that it was not entirely fair to compare the work of doctors and restorers, Carrera warned against the damage that the industry could suffer at the hands of amateur restorers.
“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,” explained Carrera.
Comparisons have inevitably been drawn with the country’s other infamous restorations, including the media dubbed “Monkey Christ”. In 2012, an elderly parishioner unwittingly made headlines around the world for failing to restore a prized Jesus Christ fresco at her local church in Borja, Spain. Cecilia Giménez had been upset that parts of the painting were flaking off, but instead of repairing the damage she transformed the face into an unrecognisable blob that some say looked like a monkey.