Restoration of Baroque Painting Fails Horribly

Experts demand heightened standards for future restorations

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s painting doesn't look like this any more.

There’s a long and storied tradition of art restoration. When done with precision, skill and an awareness of an artwork’s history, it can eliminate dirt and damage and bring a painting back to its heyday. Unfortunately, not all art restoration is conducted in this manner; you may remember the “Monkey Christ” fiasco from a few years ago. And now, another beloved piece of centuries-old art has also been transformed into something a lot weirder than its original form.

Over the weekend, Europa Press broke the news that a painting of the Immaculate Conception by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo had been unconventionally restored. Well, “restored” with scare quotes might be more apt. The restoration was undertaken by someone whose specialty was in restoring furniture — which begs the question of why they were hired for this to begin with. (The cost? According to one report, €1,200.) There are certainly a wide range of skills one might need to restore a chair or a table; they are not the same skills required to restore a painting. This probably isn’t something that needs to be said, but — maybe it is.

At The Guardian, Sam Jones explores the fallout from the failed restoration. It includes a proposal from Fernando Carrera, former president of Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators, that art restoration needed to be more regulated by the government. Another officer in the Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators argued that the issue of failed restorations was larger than media coverage might suggest.

For all the unintentional comedy that can arise from looking at the failed restoration, there’s also the sadness that comes from wondering what art is being lost to future generations as a result of similar scenarios. Will they be looking at deeply flawed restorations? It’s an unsettling thought.

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