The original Monkey Christ

Painting matching fresco that became 'Monkey Christ' resurfaces 


Woman whose restoration attempt went badly awry may attend unveiling of Elías García Martínez painting in Zaragoza 


Four years ago, 81-year-old Cecilia Giménez noticed that the fresco of a scourged Christ that adorned the wall of the Santuario de la Misericordia in the Spanish city of Borja was looking a little tired, and she decided to do something about it.

Her decision to reach for her paintbrushes was well intentioned but spectacularly misguided. Giménez’s less than expert efforts ruined Elías García Martínez’s fresco, transforming his Ecce Homo into a work dubbed the “Monkey Christ”, unleashing countless memes and setting a new global standard for botched restorations.

However, fears that the divine countenance had been obliterated forever appear to have been premature.

This week the original painting that García is thought to have used as the model for the fresco resurfaced in Zaragoza.

Ricardo Ostalé, an antiques dealer in the Aragonese capital, arrived at his gallery on Tuesday afternoon to find a man waiting for him on the doorstep with a framed miracle.

“He knew it was an Elías García and he said: ‘It’s the same [as the fresco], isn’t it?’” Ostalé told the Guardian. “It’s exactly the same because it was the original and it’s almost certain that this is the painting he used to copy on to the wall of the santuario. It’s even exactly the same size.”

Ostalé describes García, who died in 1934, as “the most important portrait artist of the Zaragozan bourgeoisie”.

“For me, it was really important to find a work that we thought had been destroyed because the fresco can’t be restored. It’s a big thrill for an art lover.”

The painting will go on show to the public at Ostalé’s gallery on 1 December. The unveiling ceremony will be attended by the mayor of Borja, García’s granddaughter and, health permitting, Cecilia Giménez.

The dealer, who estimates the painting’s market value at a few thousand euros – “maybe more, with the media interest” – says there are no plans to sell it, although he hopes a local institution may step in to secure it for the region.

He would like to see it end up next to the fresco in the Santuario de la Misericordia so that people can see the before and the infamous after side by side.

“It’s a work of historical interest and, ideally, it would be exhibited at the santuario,” he said. “That way, the image could be shown alongside Cecilia’s work, which has become an international pop icon.”

News of the painting’s discovery has been bittersweet for Giménez, who is now nearly 86 and no longer paints.

“It’s bringing back some good memories and some bad ones,” she told the Heraldo de Aragón newspaper. “It was difficult at first because I had a really hard time, but everything that’s happened has been very good for me and for the santuario.”

The restoration has brought thousands of tourists to the church. “The unintended change suffered by the church is undeniable: there was a before and an after for the repainted Ecce Homo,” the local tourist board has said.

Since it happened, a constant stream of visitors, tourists and curious individuals has come to the church to see the unique version and to photograph it. There’s no doubt that a visit never fails to raise a smile.”


Comments

Anonymous said…
The original Monkey Christ
Hi Graham, this is the typical story that reveals the infantile side of our society and the tremendous power of the social networks.
The story is irrelevant but it has reached out to be important because the present world needs strange topics to be commented. As art historian than I am, I don’t find some interest in the old woman’s “restoration”, an awful result, of course. I wouldn’t say that the old woman painted her “work” in misguided way, but her action was completely spontaneous, to the mode of the naive art. The question is: how it’s possible that this fact becomes in something so relevant and that Borja, a little town in Zaragoza, is now an interesting tourist centre for this reason? I think we live in curious world, where we have lost a value scale. Everything seems to be important, as long as it’s is different, original or amusing, without wanting to get far, without wanting to go deeper.
On the other hand, the awry countenance of Christ of Borja, dubbed Monkey Christ, spread all over the world, is an excellent example of the change of the cultural history of the Spain. It would be unthinkable this image in the Spain of the forties o fifties, when the Catholic Church took over of moral life in Spain and it was impossible to get out of strict limits that they imposed. In this sense, we live now in a better world, more tolerant.
Finally, if I had to compare and consider the worth of the Cecilia Giménez’s painting regard to the original model I would probably give more value to the old woman’s painting. The original painting follows a boring pictorial tradition.
José Luis professor.
Brigida Martinez-fresneda Gil-delgado said…
I feel pitty for Cecilia because she wanted to try her best but obviously she didn't have the skills. Personally, I think we should try to find the bright side of life and this has been good to Borja, "unfortunately" better than having the original Ecce Homo. Last month, I read that something very similar happened in Canada.So hilarious
Graham said…
Hi José Luis,

I agree with much of what you say though I think stories like these are a necessity nowadays. It cheers us up amid all the depressing news around us.


This is the typical story that reveals the infantile side of our society and the tremendous power of social networks.

The story is irrelevant but it has turned out to be important because the present world needs strange topics to comment on.

Being the art historian that I am, I don’t find any interest in the old woman’s “restoration”, an awful result, of course.

I wouldn’t say that the old woman painted her “work” in a misguided way, but her action was completely spontaneous, in the style of naive art.

The question is: how is it possible that this fact becomes something so relevant and that Borja, a little town in Zaragoza, is now an interesting tourist centre for this reason?

I think we live in a curious world, where we have lost a scale of value. Everything seems to be important, as long as it’s different, original or amusing, without wanting to get far, without wanting to go deeper.

On the other hand, the awry countenance of the Christ of Borja, dubbed the Monkey Christ, spread all over the world, is an excellent example of the change in the cultural history of Spain.

This image would have been unthinkable in the Spain of the forties o fifties, when the Catholic Church took over moral life in Spain and it was impossible to get out of the strict limits that they imposed.

In this sense, we now live in a bettermore tolerant world.

Finally, if I had to compare and consider the value of Cecilia Giménez’s painting with regard to the original model, I would probably give more value to the old woman’s painting. The original painting follows a boring pictorial tradition.


Graham said…
Hi Brigida,

I found this article about the Canadia restoration that you mention.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/20/canada-baby-jesus-head-statue-church-restoration


I feel pity / sorry for Cecilia because she wanted to try her best but obviously she didn't have the skills. Personally, I think we should try to find the bright side of life and this has been good for Borja, "unfortunately" better than having the original Ecce Homo. Last month, I read that something very similar happened in Canada. So hilarious.