Fresco's "Restoration" Artist Suing for Royalties

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 20 2012 1:55 PM

Elderly Woman Who Accidently Turned a Priceless Fresco Into a Viral Hit Is Suing for Royalties

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A woman takes pictures of the deteriorated version of Ecce Homo at the Borja Church in Zaragoza on Aug. 28, 2012

Photograph by Cesar Manso/AFP/GettyImages.

The 81-year-old Spanish woman who took it upon herself to restore a priceless fresco of Jesus—turning it into something of a viral sensation in the process—is looking to get paid for her trouble.

In case you haven't been following this story, a quick refresher: After a lifetime spent in awe of the Sanctuary of Mercy Church's famous 19th-century fresco of Jesus, Ecce Home, Cecilia Gimenez apparently grew disheartened by the work of art’s deteriorating appearance. So, like anyone (or, more likely, no one) else would have, the elderly woman took it upon herself to restore it on her own. The octogenarian didn't let the fact that she had apparently zero art background give her second thoughts about taking her brush to something that was first painted more than a century ago.

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The results, as you'd imagine, were less than stellar. The Daily Mail likens the new-look Jesus to a werewolf, while the BBC claims the son of God looks like a "very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic." (We were thinking more "E.T. when he’s riding in the basket of Elliott’s bike," but to each their own.) The takeaway here is that the final product looks hilariously awful. So awful, in fact, that the the now-viral fresco has become something of a tourist attraction and, in the process, Gimenez has been turned into a laughingstock for her ham-fisted effort.

And that's where the silver lining comes in, at least for the church: It has seen a sharp increase in foot traffic and donations since the botched restoration became an Internet sensation. An Irish airline is even offering discounted flights to the nearest Spanish airport for those wanting to check out the updated painting in person. All that attention, as the BBC reports, allowed the church to collect upwards of 2,000 euros during a recent four-day stretch after imposing a new one-euro admission fee for visitors.

Which brings us back to the most recent news in a story that was already bordering on the unbelievable: According to El Correo, Gimenez has apparently lawyered up, and is now asking for royalties from her church’s newfound money stream. But it's important to note that the lawsuit isn't exactly a straight-up money-grab from an opportunistic starving artist. The Spanish paper explains that while the Internet may be having its fun with this story, Gimenez clearly isn't. She has suffered something of an anxiety crisis since the "restoration" went viral, and rarely leaves her home out of fear of harassment from the media and the thousands of tourists who have descended upon her town.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate video blogger.

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