Spaniard Defaces 15th-Century Religious Statue In Name Of ‘Restoration’

Spaniard Defaces 15th-Century Religious Statue In Name Of ‘Restoration’

As you may have seen in the news, there’s been another art ‘restoration’ incident, this time in the village church at Rañadorio, in the northwest Spanish region of Asturias.
William Newton
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Once again, Spain has found itself the laughingstock of the international art world.

As you may have seen in the news, there’s been another art “restoration” incident, this time in the village church at Rañadorio, located in the northwest Spanish region of Asturias. The proprietress of the local tobacco shop, who fancies herself something of an artist, apparently got permission from the local parish priest to paint several 15th-century wooden sculptures on display in the church. The end result is, well:

This is not the first time I’ve chronicled this sort of thing. There was that incident earlier this summer involving a statue of St. George and the Dragon, for example. And then there was that infamous “Beast Jesus” from a few years back, which was so bad as to have created a meme that is still kicking around the interwebz.

As with the previous stories, this latest disaster raises a number of questions. Did the priest really sign off on what this woman did? Was he aware of the age and significance of the pieces? If so, why did he feel it was appropriate for an admitted amateur, rather than a professional art restorer, to paint these objects, particularly when a professional conservator had treated them only 15 years earlier? Did he consult with his superiors in the diocese before granting permission for the statues to be taken down and painted?

Spanish readers will have to weigh in on this, but there appears to be a significant lack of consistent cultural oversight policy throughout the Catholic Church in Spain. If these botched restorations had taken place in a single geographic area, I’d be tempted to say that the fault lies with the local chancery.

However, these incidents occurred in different dioceses spread across Spain, all of which are part of significantly larger archdioceses: this most recent disaster occurred in the Archdiocese of Oviedo, the Saint George incident took place in the Archdiocese of Navarra, and the “Beast Jesus” came to light in the Archdiocese of Zaragoza.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that a parish priest ought to know that both the building and the objects contained within it that he and his parishioners use are, in many cases, historic or artistically and culturally significant. If he thinks a painting needs a cleaning or a sculpture needs a touch-up, that should not be solely his decision to make, for the simple reason that these things are not his personal property to dispose of as he chooses. I would think it only appropriate that the local pastor would need to apply to the local archdiocese for permission on such matters, rather than act sua sponte.

While the “restorer” in this latest incident says she was given permission by the parish priest, and other people in the village like what she did—more fools they—those factors are immaterial to the question of whether the work should have been done in the first place. One does not go into the Louvre and attach a head to the Winged Nike of Samothrace because one thinks it would look better, even if one’s friends and the security guard agree.

Moreover, an adult Catholic who runs her own business ought to have had more personal humility than to play about with things that were clearly beyond her competence, while her pastor ought to have had the common sense to seek permission from his bishop before turning over these objects to someone else to monkey about with.

Given the significant cultural patrimony the Catholic Church holds in Spain, which includes not only architecture, but also works of fine and decorative art, some kind of overarching system should be put in place to prevent further cowboy restoration disasters such as this. Until the church gets its act together, then, the civil authorities will have to do their job cleaning up the mess. Hopefully this woman and the priest who signed off on her work get the book thrown at them, to deter this kind of disaster from happening again.

This article is republished, with permission, from the author’s blog.

William Newton is an Art Critic at The Federalist. Newton is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, The University of Notre Dame Law School, and Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. He lives in Washington DC. Learn more at wbdnewton.com and follow on Twitter @wbdnewton.

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