At Large  June 25, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Murillo's Virgin Mary Defaced in Restoration

A recently botched restoration of a once beautiful painting is proving once again why it’s best to leave some tasks to the experts.

The Spanish owner of a late copy of Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables says he paid more than $1,300 to have the painting restored. Instead of a cleaned, brightened painting, he got a Virgin Mary that had been defaced.

The unknowing owner had hired at furniture restorer to work on the painting, and the restorer, whose training and skillset clearly does not include the delicate work of recreating lost details, apparently had no qualms tackling this project that would prove to be beyond their reach.

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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables or The Immaculate Conception of Soult (La Inmaculada Concepción de los Venerables, o de Soult), c. 1678. Oil on canvas.

The defacement of the painting has resulted in a call for better regulations for art restorers. Though perhaps well-meaning, unqualified restorers can and have destroyed priceless treasures, like the famously bad restoration of the nearly century-old Ecce Homo depiction Christ with a crown of thorns. Eighty-two-year-old amateur restorer Cecilia Gimenez’s attempt to breathe new life into the fresco which was quickly deemed “Monkey Christ” or “Beast Christ” by many on social media.

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The original Elías García Martínez Ecce Homo (1930), right, and Cecilia Giménez’s 2012 botched restoration, left.

Though the residents of Borja, Spain were initially disheartened by the defacement of their fresco, the painting became a tourist attraction which boosted the local economy.

Luckily the original Murillo hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where the baroque masterpiece is safe in the hands of conservation and restoration experts. Showing the young Mary in a billowing blue shawl atop a crescent moon, surrounded by cherubs, the work is one of Murillo’s finest, and is emblematic of his style and subject matter.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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