3 Famous Restoration Blunders
And What We Can Learn From Them
In the world of restoration, there are many examples of amateurs with good intentions trying to restore artwork that is beyond their ability to restore. When beginning a restoration or conservation project, extensive physical and archival research is required for a successful result. Research done prior to the project prepares the conservator or restorer for difficulties along the way. Amateur restoration jobs often lead to irreparable damage to these priceless cultural artifacts. Misinterpretations of the original artist’s or architect’s intent, paired with ignorance and a lack of skill necessary for an adequate restoration, can destroy the integrity of the original work. Below, we examine a handful of the more famous restoration and conservation blunders that have happened in recent years to help you understand what you should avoid when approaching any form of renewal in your historic structures.
1. Painting: Ecce Homo, Borja, Spain
2. Sculpture: Statue of St. George, Estella, Spain
More recently, Spain saw another botched amateur restoration, this time in the repainting of a wooden carved sculpture of St. George located at St. Michael’s Church in Estella, Spain.
A rare example of polychrome (or “painted”) sculpture, the work had originally been completed in the 16th century. Over the years, the wood had darkened with age and filth, and the paint had begun to flake off in sections. Still, despite the age and damage, the sculpture retained an astonishing amount of detail and subtlety.
The local priest, in an attempt to combat this damage, hired a local art teacher for the job, who proceeded to cover over most of the original detail and intent with what has been called “cartoonish” pigments. In fact, the New York Times pointed out an unfortunate resemblance between the sculpture and Herge’s Tintin cartoon, as opposed to a precious statue of more than 500 years.
3. Architecture: The Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
Right now we are living on a prayer as different architectural suggestions are released for restoring the Notre Dame de Paris after the devastating April fire. Architects from all over the world are submitting proposals for a new roof very different from what was lost in the blaze, including a number of different versions of a new glass roof. This is very interesting, considering this new design completely defies the intention and design of the gothic architecture that the Notre Dame famously exemplifies.
While there is a place for modernism, the place is not Notre Dame. The church has already suffered a fire; let us avoid driving a spear into the heart of the sacred architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral.