I visited the town of Borja in Aragon in Spain in April 2014 for no other reason than to see the wall fresco Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) in the Sanctuary of Mercy church which is famous now not for the original but for the botched restoration attempt by local resident Cecilia Giménez, an eighty year-old amateur artist who painted over the fresco in 2012 in an attempt to restore it and succeeded only in completely destroying it.
The church painting was for decades a little-known piece of religious art by a minor Spanish artist. It had remained in peaceful obscurity in the Misericordia sanctuary since it was painted in 1930. That was until Gimenez decided it needed some attention and she set about her ill-judged restoration.
The attempt was so bad that the church and the authorities initially suspected vandalism but Cecilia eventually came forward to confess that she was responsible and had attempted to restore her ‘favourite’ painting after she became upset at the weathered condition of the flecked and peeling paint.
There was talk of prosecution and punishment but soon the retouched version grew popular. The image started appearing without authorisation on everything from T-shirts to mobile phone covers, coffee mugs and wine labels. Just like ourselves may people began to arrive in Borja asking to see the painting.
The council started charging an entrance fee of €1, giving the money to the Sancti Spiritus charitable foundation, which used the windfall to help pay bills at a care home for 60 elderly people. The savvy council also instructed lawyers to establish copyright and draw up a merchandising agreement that will see the image put on plates, postcards and cigarette lighters and anything else that tourists might buy.
Every cloud has a silver lining!