SHARE
COPY LINK
SPANISH FACE OF THE WEEK

ART

‘They didn’t let me finish’: ‘Monkey Jesus’ artist

A year ago she became a global laughing stock after she destroyed a prized fresco of Christ. Twelve months on she’s launched her very own art exhibition. Meet the world's most infamous art restorer – Cecilia Gimenez - our Spanish Face of the Week.

'They didn't let me finish': 'Monkey Jesus' artist
Tourists from all around the world have flocked to the once-sleepy Aragonese village to catch a glimpse and have a giggle at Gimenez's "work of art". Photo: YouTube, Cesar Manso/AFP

In August 2012, residents of the small village of Borja in north-eastern Spain were shocked to find out that a "vandal" had destroyed a prized fresco in their local Sanctuary of Mercy Church.

The 19th century 'Ecce Homo' ('Behold the Man') depiction of Jesus with his crown of thorns had been disfigured and made into a monkey-like creature bearing no resemblance to the Christian saviour.

Before the village authorities had the chance to send out a nationwide appeal, up popped an 81-year-old woman who claimed responsibility for the artistic atrocity.

"They didn’t let me finish," Gimenez later told Spanish daily El País.

Before and after: is this the world's worst restoration job?  Photo Centro de Estudios Borjanos/AFP

What started off as a little touch-up job of the pensioner’s favourite representation of Jesus soon “got out of hand”, as Gimenez puts it.

A longstanding parishioner at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church, Giménez was concerned that parts of Elías García Martínez’s fresco were flaking off due to damp on the church walls.

"The priest knew all about it!" Giménez told national broadcaster Televisión Española.

"Everybody who went into the parish saw me painting it. I never did it behind closed doors."

News of the pensioner’s improvised restoration started spreading like wildfire across Spain and as soon as the international press and social media platforms got hold of the story, Gimenez’s "monkey Jesus" became a global phenomenon.

France’s Le Monde newspaper ran the story with the title 'HOLY SHIT – the restoration of a painting of Christ turns into a massacre' and The Daily Telegraph with 'Elderly woman destroys 19th-century fresco with DIY restoration'.

Less than a month after Gimenez’s botched restoration, an international art exhibition by collaborative art group Wallpeople was held in Barcelona in honour of her "masterpiece" .

EcceHomo fans prepared a montage of Gimenez’s "monkey face" on a number of renowned artworks, including Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe and Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.

Even US comedy shows Saturday Night Live and The Conan O’Brien Show featured sketches in which they mocked the so-called Potato Jesus.

Faced with a barrage of international media attention, Spanish newspapers reported that Cecilia Gimenez suffered an anxiety attack.

"I couldn't understand why everyone was talking about me," she later told Spanish daily ABC.

"All I wanted to do was save the fresco."

Borja’s authorities had even considered taking legal action against her for what they initially deemed to be the ransacking of the village’s patrimony.

"Cecilia, come home! They want to put you in prison!" Giménez’s sister told her over the phone as soon as she heard the news.

But initial plans to restore the botched fresco were put on hold by the local parish and Borja’s authorities as soon as they realized the positive effect it was having on the village’s economy.

Tourists from all around the world have flocked to the once-sleepy Aragonese village to catch a glimpse and have a giggle at what has been popularly referred to as the worst art restoration project in history.

Entrance to the church costs €1 ($1.30) and all the money goes to the renovation of the building.

Sweets of the 'Ecce Mono' — or 'Behold the Monkey' as the revised artwork has been jokingly dubbed — have gone on sale in Japan.

A mask of the gruesome face was also one of the most popular costume masks at Halloween in the US.

More importantly, Gimenez has fully recovered from her panic attacks with the help and support of Borja's townspeople.

She’s been the honorary guest on a local TV station’s New Year’s programme; she’s designed the labels for local wine bottles and has sold some of her artwork on Ebay.

Her proudest moment yet came on Tuesday, when the 82-year-old showed off 28 of her paintings at an art exhibition in the village.

Gimenez claims she hasn't taken a single cent from her parish's "new" 'Ecce Homo' revenue.

"I've not wanted to profit from anything that's happened," she told Spanish daily ABC.

But the octogenarian artist is now fighting for her copyright privileges to be recognized  by the Sanctuary of Mercy Church so she can set up a foundation to help people with the degenerative illness that her son suffers from.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

SHOW COMMENTS