Ecce Homo: The Botched Painting That Saved a Town

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Eighty-three year old amateur artist Cecilia Giménez had nothing but good intentions when she turned her attention towards a deteriorating fresco of Jesus Christ painted on the walls of the Sanctuary of Mercy church, in the small Spanish town of Borja. The fresco titled Ecce Homo (meaning “Behold the Man”) was made by the Spanish artist Elías García Martínez in 1930, and although the work was of “little artistic importance”, according to the general opinion amongst the press, because “Martínez is not a great artist and his painting Ecce Homo is not a ‘masterpiece,’” the fresco nevertheless held some sentimental value within the local community. So when the original paint on the fresco started flaking, Cecilia Giménez, who had no formal training, took it upon herself to restore the ageing artwork.
Giménez began touching up the portrait, one brushstroke at a time over several years, with the knowledge of the parish priest and the church caretakers, until one day, in the summer of 2012, when she decided that the work needed a major overhaul. Halfway through her ‘restoration’, Giménez went on an holiday, because the job was taking longer than she expected. She intended to complete it when she came back, but for good or bad, she never got the chance.

By the time she returned, her disastrous efforts had been discovered and Giménez became a global laughingstock. The botched effort became the talk of the internet, inspiring a slew of memes and jokes. Journalists likened the restoration to Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean defacing Whistler’s Mother. Some compared the painting to a blurry potato and a monkey. Others dubbed it Beast Jesus and Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey).

Giménez felt so humiliated that she cried for days and refused to eat, her relatives said. Eventually, she went to a psychiatrist and took medication. At one point, García Martínez’s heirs threatened to sue Giménez for destroying the painting, but fortunately for her, they didn’t follow through.




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