Elderly woman destroys 19th-century Spanish fresco by Elias Garcia Martinez in botched restoration

Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’.

An elderly woman has destroyed a 19th-century Spanish fresco in a botched restoration conducted without permission.

Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’.

The damage was discovered after Martinez’s granddaughter made a donation to the Centro de Estudios Borjanos which holds an archive of local religious artworks, a couple of weeks ago.

Staff then went to check on the work at the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, near Zaragoza in north eastern Spain, only to find it dramatically altered.

The three photographs show the changing face of the artwork over the last two years.

In the first photograph, taken in 2010, slight speckling is apparent. In the second photograph, taken just last month, large patches of white dominate the picture. One theory is that the elderly woman had already begun her work on the painting at this point, and the white marks are the result of her scraping away the paint.

The third photograph shows the image transformed beyond recognition, with a childlike reworking of Jesus’ face, broad brush strokes removing any subtlety from the clothing and thick layers of red and brown paint covering several key details, including the crown of thorns.

Despite the terrible results, the restoration, which was completed without permission, is not thought to have been malicious; rather the work of an enthusiastic, if somewhat misguided, amateur who lived near to the church and simply wanted to repair the ageing artwork.

Culture councillor Juan Maria de Ojeda was quoted in the Spanish newspaper El Pais taking a somewhat sympathetic tone, saying the elderly perpetrator had undertaken the project “with good intentions” and had reported and admitted causing the damage when she realised it had “gotten out of hand”.

Despite being a work of little artistic importance, and not part of any painting or altarpiece, it did have some local sentimental value.

"The family used to come here to spend the holidays. One summer the artist made the portrait and bequeathed it to the people," Ojeda said.

The damage is currently being assessed in an attempt to work out exactly what materials the amateur restorer used. The long-term hope is that a professional may be able to remove the layers of paint and restore the work to some semblance of its former state.

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