A local priest in the town of Estella, Spain, hired an art teacher instead of a trained art restorer to help return a 16th century statue of Saint George to its former glory. However, the “restoration” didn’t go quite as planned.
The results are closer to a complete reinterpretation than a restoration, with paint colors chosen without respect to the pigments that would have been available when the statue was first created. The original construction methods were likely disregarded, as was the facial expression of Saint George himself (who is now stuck in a constant state of surprise)
Sadly, this is what happens when professionals are not consulted with on the restoration of precious antique artifacts. Art historians and preservationists spend years learning techniques to recreate historically accurate colors and techniques through non-invasive restoration.
The statue of Saint George is an example of polychromatic sculpture in which layers of paint are painstaking built up in layers in order to provide depth, radiance, or texture. The most recent re-painting and sanding of the statue have likely made actual restoration of these paint layers impossible for future restorers.
After the statue was revealed art preservationists were rightly outraged. In a statement issued by the La Asociación Profesional de Conservadores Restauradores de España (or ACRE as they are more commonly known) they call this botched restoration an attack on Spain’s cultural heritage. The priest responsible for hiring the artist could face charges for not following protocol in such matters where historic relics are concerned.
Many people have remarked that the statue now looks quite cartoonish compared to the original.
Some have likened the repainting of the statue of Saint George to the 2012 botched “Ecce Homo” painting restoration in Borja, Spain. In the case of the painting, the original work only dated back to 1930 and actually really helped the town of Borja since the painting of Christ became a huge tourist attraction.
UPDATE: The statue has since been correctly restored by professionals and returned to its original colors. The restoration took place at the workshop of the Archeology Funds of the Government of Navarra, the federal agency responsible for getting Saint George back into fighting shape. The restoration happened over the course of about one year and even though the original color and style has been returned to the historic statue, some of the original paint was sadly lost forever.
In getting the statue back to normal, the first layers of paint were damaged in the process. This is the sad reality of the restorations gone wrong: even when work is done to bring the item back up to snuff, the layers underneath often suffer. However, the restoration will be explained when the Saint George statue is again put on display for public viewing at the end of June 2019.
Let’s just hope that through stories like these it will make amateur restorers think twice about haphazardly working on precious and fragile relics. You can get a better look at the properly restored statue in the video below.