No doubt this is the thought running through the mind of poor Cecilia Gimenez, who according to some reporting, is now bedridden over anxiety caused by her attempted restoration. Or at least, some Spanish variance of the phrase.
The world has by now been made well aware of Ms. Gimenez’s mostly criticized attempt to repair a damaged fresco of “Ecce Homo” by Elias Garcia Martinez (the version of the story I read was from the BBC here.)
I must confess I have mixed feelings about this story. From one angle, Ms. Gimenez’s mishandling of the restoration was careless, but thanks to her carelessness the importance of proper conservation and restoration treatments has been brought to worldwide attention. If the circumstances are favorable, the fresco will be properly restored and a new appreciation for conservators and their heroic efforts will be afforded. Yet do the ends justify the means? There is after all, a slight possibility the painting may not be saved depending on the materials Ms. Gimenez used.
Furthermore, a whole new element of the story is unfolding which I feel is even greater cause for concern. There is now a petition on change.org to keep the painting in its current condition. According to AFP, many international fans feel that the painting serves as a commentary on Christianity vs. Creationism and a need for new icons. They say that the Ms. Gimenez’s work is now part of the history of the painting, and it cannot be tampered with.
This is an argument that I myself grapple with on a regular basis. The question of over-paint and its’ potential removal is a hot topic for conservators all over the world, and inevitably no two experts will have the same opinion. Some say over-pain is an intrinsic part of the work, and occasionally the removal will cause either physical or aesthetic damage to the work. Others say that later tampering with a painting is irrelevant, and that the original painting should be displayed as the artist intended.
And therein lies the rub, for we are now dealing with the land of retroactively predicting what an artist wanted to happen to their work.
Now if anyone were to ask for my opinion (which of course you would, because why else would you be reading this blog?), I think that the proper course of action would be to properly restore the work and reveal the original Martinez, and perhaps display it with a brief caption about the (in)famous restoration by Gimenez, considering the circumstances. Ms. Gimenez has repeatedly indicated that she only meant to restore the painting, not damage it, and to suggest that the over-paint should remain as a ironic affront to traditional Christian iconography is absurd. It is certainly not what the descendant’s of the artist would want, or probably the institute that now holds the painting. If the petitioners care so much that the painting should remain as it is, then they can bally well buy the painting and house it someplace.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law so they say. Let’s just not get into what possessed the petitioners, shall we?