What should become of the Ecce Homo restoration?

It was late August, and I was literally on my way out the door, when a friend forwarded me a New York Times article, along with the following message:

You should write a post about this. This is honestly one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

And so I was introduced to Cecilia Giménez’s restoration of a fresco depicting Jesus somewhere in small-town Spain. I opened the article, fell in love – how could I not? – and immediately shared it with everyone in my family. In case you somehow have yet to see it, I share it with you now:

At the time, I didn’t have much to add – how do you enhance something that’s basically perfect? – so while I gleefully shared the article with people I thought might appreciate it, I did not seriously consider writing anything about it. You may have noticed that I write a lot, but even I have to draw the line somewhere.

But now, about a month after I first locked eyes with the restored “Ecce Homo”, I’m finally fulfilling my friend’s request-in-jest to weigh in. The impetus for this post was the publication of an article that linked the above fresco to my future profession, Spanish woman who disfigured painting of Christ lawyers up, wants money:

A Spanish woman who made headlines worldwide for her botched attempt to restore a 20th-century painting of Jesus Christ says she has hired lawyers and wants royalties from the fees church owners are charging visitors, according to the daily Spanish-language newspaper El Correo.

Of course, at the heart of Cecilia’s decision is the realization that her ‘work’ could be monetized:

The sanctuary’s owners, the Santi Spiritus Hospital Foundation, reportedly made $2,600 in four days from visitors wanting to see Ecce Mono,” or “Behold the Monkey” as it’s now called, Ars Technica reported.

The church has hired lawyers of its own to protect its revenue, Ars Technica said.

I’m less interested in how the money will be divvied up – and the perverse incentives that might be created in awarding Gimenez any of it – than in what will ultimately become of “Ecce Mono”. As recently as a month ago, when the ‘vandalism’ first came to light, the plan was to restore the fresco, which would have essentially reversed all of Cecilia’s “improvements”. From the New York Times article [8/24]:

The Borja authorities […] insisted that their priority was to try to return the work to its original state, under the guidance of art historians.

And despite the emergence of a market for viewing the altered work, not much has changed in the intervening month; the fresco’s future remains far from guaranteed. From the article that prompted this post [9/20]:

Town officials have planned to undo Gimenez’s work, but almost 18,000 people have signed an online petition to preserve the post-restoration painting, according to Agence France-Presse.

Personally, I think reversing Gimenez’s modifications would be a shame. As we learned from the original 100-year old fresco’s rapid deterioration, her work probably won’t hold up for all that long anyway. More importantly, it is truly unique – if there’s one thing the continent doesn’t need any more of, it’s the Jesus.* Jesus in Europe is like Starbucks in New York, corn in Iowa, home losses at Wrigley Field: there’s nothing wrong with them, but no one would seriously notice if one or two went missing.

I personally learned this lesson just last summer: a visit to Europe is actually a visit to Jesustown. And I don’t just mean that he’s featured prominently in every Church and Cathedral (surprise!), or that every art museum in Europe is basically a shrine to Jesus. I mean that he can also be found on every wall, around every corner, up every alley, in every cranny. As they say: up up down down left right and all around – truly everywhere.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and the relic. He can be found in stone, in paint, in fresco, in terra cotta, in wafers, and surely in countless other materials I would never even think to Jes-ify. He may be the son of God, but his ubiquity throughout Europe – or at least in the parts I’ve visited (and especially Italy) – seems more in keeping with the tradition of Big Brother. Or perhaps he’s just the continental mascot.

At least Europe isn’t as bad as South slash Central America (slash Honduras):

*And for the record, if there are two things Europe doesn’t need more of, it’s pictures of Mohammed.


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