Botched Art Restoration in Spain Renders Smiling Statue Unrecognizable

A disfigured carving in Palencia is the latest in a growing list of bungled conservation attempts by amateurs

The original sculpture (left) and the "restored" version (right)
The original sculpture (left) and the "restored" version (right) Courtesy of Antonio Guzmán Capel via Facebook

Spain is no stranger to botched art restorations. In 2012, a local parishioner’s disfiguring update to Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo went viral under the moniker Monkey Jesus; in 2018, a woman in the village of Rañadorio was sharply criticized after she repainted a 15th-century shrine in bright shades of chartreuse, pink and blue.

Given these and other instances of failed restorations, news of a public sculpture’s recent transformation into a misshapen lump was unwelcome but unsurprising, reports Spanish newspaper ABC.

Prior to the bizarre reimagining, the sculpture—part of a bank façade in the city of Palencia—depicted a smiling woman surrounded by cattle and livestock. Because the building was completed in 1923, the figure’s downturned features were understandably weathered, but they remained recognizable, according to online news site Público.

Now, the carving is essentially ruined, with some observers saying that it more closely resembles Donald Trump or Mr. Potato Head than a female figure.

Local painter Antonio Guzmán Capel, who uploaded photos of the artistic travesty to Facebook after spotting it last week, decried the restoration, writing, “It looks like a cartoon character.”

Capel went on to accuse the “restorer” of wrongdoing.

“I’m sure whoever did it got paid for it,” he added, per a translation by the Independent’s Kate Ng. “But the bigger crime was committed by the person who commissioned it and then tried to carry on as though nothing was wrong.”

Capel tells CNN’s Jack Guy that he has yet to identify who commissioned or carried out the work.

“I don’t understand why they allow it,” he says. “It doesn’t seem normal to me.”

Professional restorers echoed Capel’s assessment, taking to social media to denounce the amateur attempt.

“THIS #IsNotARestoration,” wrote Spain’s Professional Association of Conservators and Restorers (ACRE) on Twitter, adding, “It’s a NON-professional intervention.”

In addition to the aforementioned “restorations,” amateur artists in Spain have bungled a copy of a 17th-century painting of the Virgin Mary and a 500-year-old statue of St. George. Last June, the wooden sculpture—which ended up looking more like the cartoon character Tintin than a legendary dragon slayer after a well-meaning paint job went south—underwent a $34,000 “unrestoration” aimed at regaining a semblance of its original appearance.

Spanish law currently allows amateurs to repair historic artworks—a fact that has led many conservation experts to argue for tighter regulations in the industry.

“Can you imagine just anyone being allowed to operate on other people? Or someone being allowed to sell medicine without a pharmacist’s license? Or someone who’s not an architect being allowed to put up a building?” said Fernando Carrera, former president of ACRE, to the Guardian’s Sam Jones in June.

Despite facing backlash, some communities known for botched restorations have actually managed to capitalize on these slipshod repairs. The Santuario de Misericordia in Borja—home of Monkey Jesus—became a tourist attraction following an elderly churchgoer’s transformation of its 1930s painting of Christ. As Jones reported for the Guardian in 2018, visitors can purchase bottles, pens, mugs, T-shirts, fridge magnets and keyrings featuring the infamous image.

“It was a media phenomenon, but it’s also been a social phenomenon when it comes to helping people,” Borja’s mayor, Eduardo Arilla, told the Guardian. “If it hadn’t happened, maybe Borja would have become famous for something else, like its wine. But we wouldn’t be as well-known as we are now.”