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Friday, August 24, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
Fresco vandalism was really botched restoration
By RAPHAEL MINDER
The New York Times
MADRID — A case of suspected vandalism in a church in a northeastern village has turned out to be probably the worst art-restoration project seen in Spain.
A woman stepped forward this week to claim responsibility for disfiguring a century-old Ecce Homo fresco of Jesus Christ crowned with thorns, in the Sanctuary of Mercy, a Roman Catholic Church in Borja, near the city of Zaragoza in northern Spain.
Ecce Homo, or "Behold the Man," refers to an artistic motif that depicts Jesus, usually bound and with a crown of thorns, right before his crucifixion.
The woman, Cecilia Giménez, who is in her 80s, said on Spanish national television that she had tried to restore the fresco, which she called her favorite local representation of Jesus, because she was upset that parts of it had flaked off due to moisture on the church's walls.
The fate of the painting done by Elias Garcia Martinez and completed in 1930, made national news in Spain. BBC Europe correspondent Christian Fraser reported that the once-dignified portrait now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic. Indeed, some Twitter users Thursday dubbed the unfortunate artwork Ecce Mono, or Behold the Monkey.
Giménez defended herself, saying she could not understand the uproar because she had worked during daylight hours and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergy. "The priest knew it," she told Spanish TV. "I've never tried to do anything hidden."
Giménez said she had worked on the fresco using a 10-year-old picture of it, but she eventually left Jesus with a half-beard and, some say, a monkeylike appearance.
The fresco's botched restoration came to light this month, when descendants of Elias Garcia Martinez proposed making a donation toward the fresco's upkeep.
The Borja authorities said they were considering taking legal action against Giménez, although they insisted their priority was to try to return the work to its original state, under the guidance of art historians.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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