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Psychedelic Nativity scene restoration sparks outrage
ANOTHER amateur art restoration in a Spanish church has hit global headlines for all the wrong reasons – six years on from Cecilia Giménez's famous Ecce Homo 'repair' in Borja, Zaragoza province, parishioner María Luisa Menéndez from Asturias has sparked controversy by painting a Nativity scene in loud colours.
Sra Menéndez had the local priest's consent to paint the plain wooden statues of the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and Saint Peter at her local church in the tied hamlet of Rañadoiro, part of the village of Tineo and home to just 16 people.
“I'm not a professional; it was simply that the figures were awful and I wanted to paint them to make them look better,” argues María Luisa.
The 'awful' figures were carved in the relatively basic Gothic sculpting style, with little realistic human form detail – although they date back to the late 15th and early 16th century, the Gothic era did not give way to the much more intricate Renaissance techniques in Spain until the early 17th century, about 100 years after the rest of Europe.
But now, they resemble an Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada creation: Mary wears a hot pink robe draped over her bright blue and white dress, whilst the baby Jesus is clothed in fluorescent lime green and Saint Peter wears wine-red with a turquoise snood and cape.
All three appear to be wearing makeup, especially Mary, whose black eyeliner and cerise-pink lipstick are the most prominent of all.
The Diocese of Oviedo declined to comment when contacted by reporters, referring the media to the local priest, who is currently based at the Covadonga Sanctuary.
Whilst Asturias' regional education and heritage minister Genaro Alonso complains the 'restoration' looks more like 'a revenge attack' and the national art restoration association ACRE slammed what it considers to be 'ongoing vandalism of ancestral legacies', María Luisa Menéndez has, inevitably, been compared to her 'predecessor' Cecilia Giménez.
Cecilia, now 87, always claimed her restoration of Elías García Martínez's 19th-century fresco was not yet finished when images of it (pictured right) hit the media, leading to the artist's relatives planning a prosecution for criminal damage and the monkey-like Ecce Homo being splashed across TV screens worldwide.
But whilst Cecilia had taken to her bed with a panic attack, the public had launched a petition for the painting to be left as it stood and was calling it 'modern art', and visitors were flocking in from across Spain and even abroad to snap a selfie of it.
In the days that followed, Ryanair offered flights for €1 to Zaragoza, Borja church had queues out the door and down the street, and restaurants, bars and hotels in the sleepy village were run off their feet and raking in the cash.
Before 2012 was out, Borja council had started charging entry tickets to the church, souvenirs – T-shirts (third picture), key-rings, coffee-coasters and postcards – featuring the Ecce Homo were on sale, and once-struggling local traders became wealthier than ever as Americans, Japanese and Australian tourists included Borja on their Spain itineraries.
Still a major tourist attraction requiring ticket purchase, the Ecce Homo in Borja and its unintended creation have now become the subject of an operetta, which has premièred in the USA and is due to start a tour of Spain next year.
As yet, the same fame and fortune have not come to the art teacher taken on to restore the wooden statue of San Jorge (Saint George) in Estella, Navarra, whose end result has been compared to the Belgian cartoon character Tin Tin.
Nor has the same happened with the architects behind the futuristic 'restoration' of the 9th-century Matrera Castle in Villamartín (Cádiz province), which suffered similar global ridicule and criticism.
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