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The Biggest Art Restoration Fails
Get inspired 19 Apr 2022

The Biggest Art Restoration Fails

Between completely botched citizen initiatives and daring artistic positioning, art restoration fail does not leave one feeling indifferent! Usually creating uncontrollable laughter, it can also distress some art lovers by its absurdity: the Madonna and child denatured, a Buddhist statue colored and more. Here are the 4 biggest failures of art restorations of the last decades!

The most famous: The Ecce Homo in Borja

ecce homo
The Ecce Homo of the Santuario de Misericordia’s church in Borja © Centro de Estudios Borjanos,DR

Failed art restorations seem to want to take it out on Jesus. This restoration of a fresco of Christ, from the Church of Santuario de Misericordia in Borja, near Zaragoza, Spain, is a case in point. Made by Elías García Martínez at the end of the 19th century, this painting needed restoration in the 2010s. It was in 2012 that Cecilia Giménez, an 80-year-old amateur painter, decided to take care of it. But despite all her good will, the face of Jesus ends up looking like that of a small circumspect bear. And if the Ecce Homo has thus lost its traditional iconographic value, the numerous debates on this restoration have made it famous. The city is not complaining about this added value, since the cathedral now attracts tourists from all over the world!

The Buddha of Anyue, a restoration in full color!

art restoration failure
Buddhist statue in Sichuan, China

Inherited from the Song dynasty, this Buddhist statue was built between 960 and 1279, in the Sichuan province of southwest China. It was in 1995 that several locals took the initiative to restore the sacred sculpture. With little knowledge of conservation and restoration techniques, the statue did not emerge unscathed. The bright red, blue and yellow give the Buddha a completely different look – more like a giant Lego than a Buddha. However, this modern splash of primary colors does not make everyone laugh.

Biggest failed art restoration: the Virgin and Child of Ontario

madonna and child
The Virgin and Child of Ontario, Church of Sainte-Anne-des-Pins, © AP-FOTOLINK, © Marina v Stackelberg

The record for the biggest art restoration fail goes to this sculpture of the Virgin and Child. This story begins at the Church of Sainte-Anne-des-Pins in the city of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada. Following an act of vandalism, the head of Jesus was stolen from the statue. Not really willing to pay a professional restorer, the priest accepted the services of a local artist named Heather Wise. The result is this new version, half Jesus and half Lisa of The Simpsons! But fear not, the sculpture is no longer a monster, as it has now been properly restored.

The Fortress of Matrera – literally a concrete art restoration fail

fortress restoration
The Matrera Fortress in Cadiz, Spain, restored in 2013

Dating back to the 9th century, the Matrera Fortress is located in Cadiz, Spain. In 2013, violent floods caused the collapse of the splendid tower. The restoration work is entrusted to the architect Carlos Quevedo Rojas, who effectively decided to fortify the building. The problem? He used concrete as the main material. With his Brutalist approach, the restorer wanted to highlight the original parts and distinguish them clearly from the renovated parts. But this approach was far from being embraced unanimously. On one hand, the architectural firm Architizer gave him an award. On the other hand, the local population was outraged by such a massacre. If everyone has his personal opinion, one thing is sure: Quevedo Rojas stepped out of bounds. While he had to execute the work of restorer, he positioned himself as an artist and architect. Failed art restoration or reinvented building? You be the judge.

Art restoration failures, the good and the bad

If art restoration failures are so fascinating, it is because it strangely combines prodigious talent and abject failure. Through naivety, neglect, incompetence or the delirium of an artist with a slightly too big ego, failed restoration offers a strange spectacle. Results that the history of art could have done without, but which usually bring a smile to our faces!

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