The Spanish octogenarian whose botched do-it-yourself attempt at restoring an old fresco painting has gone from disaster to tourist attraction and Internet meme.
The woman, now identified as Cecilia Gimenez, found herself in the headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that she had attempted to repair a one-of-a-kind, century-old fresco by the Spanish painter Elias Garcia Martinez housed in her church for decades with a few broad brushstrokes.
The result of her work on Martinez’s “Ecce Home” was described as resembling, “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic,” by one BBC reporter at the time, but has now developed a legion of supporters online and become a tourist draw at her church, the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, in northeastern Spain.
After church officials and officials at the Centro de Estudios Borjano museum, to which the painting had been donated by the artist’s granddaughter, announced they were assessing the damage to the painting and determining whether a professional could restore it, the story went viral.
The Beast-Jesus Restoration Society, a cheeky reference to Gimenez’s artistic impact on Martinez’s work, was formed online along with a Tumblr page of Photoshop tributes pasting the fresco’s now blurry head on masterworks like Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.”
A Change.org petition started in Madrid that calls Gimenez’s work “a clever reflection of political and social situation of our time” now has more than 21,000 signatures asking the church to leave the painting alone and ditch any recovery effort.
Meanwhile the century-old painting has also been subject to a very 21st century treatment with the creation of its own Twitter handle, @FrescoJesus, that laments the notoriety it has received.
“STOP LAUGHING! IT’S NOT FUNNY!!!,” reads one Tweet, immediately followed by, “HAVE I NOT SUFFERED ENOUGH YET!? ”
Gimenez, said to be in her 80s and, according to reports, an artist herself, has now spoken out too, saying it was no surprise to people in the church that she was working on the painting.
“(The) priest knew it! He did! How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!,” she said, according to the BBC.
Gimenez’s DIY attempt was discovered after the painter’s granddaughter donated the work to the archive of religious paintings housed at the Centro de Estudios Borjano, also in Borja.
Juan Maria Ojeda, the city councilor in charge of cultural affairs, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that the woman turned herself in and admitted causing the damage when she realized it had “gotten out of hand.” He added that the woman, who was not identified, attempted to restore the work with “with good intentions.”
The work has also proved a tourist draw in the town of Borja itself where hundreds of visitors have lined up outside the Iglesia del Santuario de Misericordia church to take a look for themselves.
“The previous painting was also very pretty, but I really like this one,” one visitor woman told a local public television station, according to the AFP.
While the adulation is all a bit ironic, it is noteworthy because Gimenez’s non-attempt to create a piece of art has garnered the painting more attention than it ever would have received on its own. The piece, to which no figure of its value has been attached, is said to hold more sentimental than artistic value because Martinez’s family is known in the local community.