Spain’s botched restoration of ancient St George statue gets a proper makeover

A 16th century sculpture of Saint George in Spain whose amateur restoration left it looking like a cartoon character has been brought back to its original state, regional authorities said Monday.

Spain's botched restoration of ancient St George statue gets a proper makeover
Photos: AFP

The botched restoration sparked anger when it came to light last year, drawing comparisons with a similar infamous renovation in 2012 by an elderly parishioner of a fresco of Jesus Christ which resembled a pale-faced ape with cartoon-style eyes.

The wooden statue of St George charging a horse in the San Miguel church in Estella, a town in Spain's northern Navarra region, had turned a dark brown with age.

But its restoration by a local crafts business left the soldier with a pink face and a surprised look.

Some Twitter users likened the restored statue to Tintin or Woody from “Toy Story”.

Authorities fined the church and the crafts business 6,010 euros ($6,840) each.

Now, after three months of work in an official laboratory in the nearby city of Pamplona for a cost of 30,000 euros paid by the parish, St. George is back to normal, the government of Navarra announced.

Or almost. There is irreversible damage, with some of the sculpture's colours lost forever, Fernando Carrera, spokesman for Spain's art conservation-restoration association, told AFP.

He said this was just “the tip of the iceberg of so many cases that don't appear in the press.”

“It's constant,” he added.

The renovation of the “Ecce Homo” fresco of Jesus Christ in Borja became so famous it turned the small, northeastern town into an attraction for Spanish and foreign tourists.

It has also inspired a comic opera.The fresco's elderly restorer, Cecilia Gimenez, has even had her own art exhibited and signed a licensing agreement for the commercial use of the image of her “Ecce Homo” restoration on mugs, t-shirts and other souvenirs.

Last year it also emerged that a parishioner had painted three 15th century sculptures in garish colours.

Baby Jesus was given a bright green robe and the Virgin Mary a bright pink headscarf, sky blue robe and eyeliner at the chapel in El Ranadoiro, a northern hamlet.

“There is a problem in management of Spain's historical heritage,” said Carrera, pointing to the law that doesn't clearly state “who must intervene” when a work of art needs to be restored, on top of general rule-breaking. 

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New botched restoration gives 500-year-old St George statue a cartoon face

One would think that after all the furore over the botched restoration of a priceless fresco of Christ by an amateur painter well into her 80s that those tempted to pick up a paintbrush to touch up an ancient artwork in Spain might think twice.

New botched restoration gives 500-year-old St George statue a cartoon face
Before and after. Photo: KarmaColour/facebook

But apparently not.

A new restoration disaster is making headlines in Spain after it emerged that a rather weathered and worn-out wooden statue of Saint George upon his steed that had stood in a corner of a small church in Navarra had suffered the indignity of a rather garish paint job.

The famous dragon-slayer now sports a cross-eyed, slack-jawed expression on his cartoon-style face as he gormlessly stares out beneath his knight’s helmet.


It has been dubbed the new Ecce Homo, in reference to the now infamous attempts by 80-something year old, Cecilia Giménez, who decided to touch-up a painting in her local chapel.

The disastrous repair made headlines across the world, brought tourists flocking to the small Aragon town of Borja and even inspired an opera.

The orginal work by Elias Garcia had deterioated before the botched restoration Photo: AFP

So far, the restoration of the 14th Century St. George stature has only brought indignation. Not least from parish authorities in charge of the Church of Saint Michael in Estella, a town in Navarra.

Church managers had enlisted help from a local arts-and-crafts group to clean up the statue but were appalled to see the final result.

“The local priest just wanted to clean up a neglected space,” sources at Pamplona’s archbishop’s office said on Monday.

Spain’s art conservation association ACRE said it would file a legal complaint over the “unfortunate intervention” that had “destroyed part of Navarra’s cultural heritage”.

Ana Herrera, the head of cultural affairs at the regional government of Navarra complained that a permit should have been applied for.

“The restoration project should have been approved by authorities before work began,” she said.

Karmacolor, the company charged with the restoration work, had uploaded a video to Facebook detailing the project step-by-step but has since removed the post and has not publicly responded to the criticism.

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