World News

A Botched Statue Restoration in Spain: Is That St. George or Tintin?

Posted June 26, 2018 2:21 p.m. EDT

Five hundred years in an alcove of a Spanish church is likely to leave any statue looking a bit cracked and faded, and the 16th-century wooden figure of St. George at St. Michael’s Church in Estella, a town in northern Spain, was no exception.

But after the church asked a local workshop to give the statue a makeover, the results horrified the town’s authorities, scandalized professional restorers and set social media alight with indignation.

Instead of returning the statue to its original glory, the so-called restoration left St. George looking more like a childish model of a cartoon character than a precious piece of art.

“I don’t think it was done with malice, but they obviously have not acted responsibly with the treasure they had in their possession,” Koldo Leoz, the mayor of Estella, said Tuesday.

As news about what happened spread, Twitter users likened the St. George statue to Tintin or to a Lego character.

Among the first people to sound the alarm about the work was Carmen Usúa, the owner of a restoration company in the Navarra region, which includes Estella.

“I saw photographs of the atrocity they were committing,” she said. “As a professional, I feel disconcerted and very offended. It takes years to acquire the skills necessary to carry out these kind of restorations, so imagine the frustration when something like this happens.”

Usúa said that the statue was a rare example of the use of “polychrome” layers of paint, and that it had incredible detail to the armor. “It had everything,” she said, adding that the result “really hurts.”

Leoz, the mayor, said that the restoration job had not been authorized by the region’s heritage institution, and that the town’s authorities had been notified only a few days ago, by which time most of the damage had been done.

“People are disappointed and sad,” he added. “Estella used to be known as a place that took care of its heritage, now we’re famous for the opposite.”

Leoz said the restoration, which started about a month ago, had been carried out by a workshop with more expertise in arts and crafts for children and basic furniture repairs than in professional restoration.

Calls to the company that carried out the work went unanswered Tuesday, and its Facebook page seemed to have been deactivated.

“We have experts examining the statue now to see whether the damage can be undone,” Leoz said. “It’s possible the detail of the armor and original colors have been lost forever.”

The episode recalled an infamous botched restoration at another church, in northeastern Spain, where a century-old “ecce homo” fresco of Jesus crowned with thorns was disfigured in 2012.

In that case, an elderly parishioner, Cecilia Giménez, admitted repainting the fresco because she was upset that parts of it had flaked off as a result of moisture on the church’s walls.

That restoration was so bad, it kind of became a blessing: Thousands of tourists have flocked to the town, Borja, to see the work, giving the area an economic shot in the arm. Nearby vineyards have squabbled over the right to use the image on wine labels, and the story has even inspired a comic opera.

Whether the St. George in Estella will have a similarly successful second act remains to be seen.