The Virgin Mary depicted in Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables has been described as a “lovely creation, her physical beauty a sufficient expression of her purity.” However, after a copy of this famous painting recently paid a trip to a furniture restorer’s for “cleaning”, the Virgin Mary returned looking pretty unrecognizable.
On the left, the face of the Virgin Mary from Murillo’s original artwork. On the right are two of the attempts at “restoring” the figure in the copy. Cedida por Coleccionista/Europa Press 2020
A private art collector from València reportedly paid €1,200 for this service, by a restorer of furniture and other items such as mirrors. Speaking to Europa Press, when the owner asked for an explanation of this “restoration” that left the figure with a completely different face, the restorer said he had tried to “solve” the problem. The collector has since contacted another specialist who will try to undo the damage.
It’s… um… unique? Cedida por Coleccionista/Europa Press 2020
According to one of the vice presidents of Spain’s Professional association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE), María Borja, these mishaps are “unfortunately much more frequent than you think.”
“The works undergo this type of non-professional intervention, and can cause irreversible change,” Borja told Europa Press.
Although not all of these events find their way into the press or social media, there are some notable “restoration horrors” that have. In 2012, a parishioner attempted to restore her favorite fresco of Christ, Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez, at her local Church in the Spanish town of Borja. Initially intended to just be a “touch-up,” it soon “got out of hand” as the “restorer” Cecilia Gimenez told El País.
Yet the recent Murillo mishap, that is somewhat reminiscent of Mr Bean’s run-in with “Whistler’s Mother”, has made experts once again call for legislation to help regulate who can undertake restorative activities. At present, the law does not state that the restorer needs any training.
“It is important to have professionals, because the pieces have to be studied individually,” Borja explained, “They are unique pieces, with a historical, cultural and emotional value.”
“This legislative lack leads to the disastrous interventions that from time to time causes alarm, especially when it comes to Romanesque carvings or Renaissance images of great value,” Borja said.
Even when trained restorers are involved, the outcome can be quite alarming, as we found out earlier this year, when the “world’s most stolen painting” was revealed to have an intense human-looking sheep at its center.