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Should “Ecce Mono” Be Fixed?

Image used for education under “Fair Use.”

“Ecce Homo” was not a masterpiece, but does that mean it deserves to be permanently defiled? It’s a bit worrying to me so many droves of people were quick to defend the botched restoration as an important cultural icon. There is little doubt over the popularity of the painting, but does popularity always equal significance? I’d argue not. Just listen to the singles on Billboard.

Of course, artistic restorations have always been controversial, particularly the famous ones. Take the massive restoration of Michelangelo’s paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, with its so-called “ice cream colors.” One critic, art historian Charles Hope, said in the Philadelphia Inquirer that, “Seen in their entirety from the ground — as they should be — the frescoes create a decidedly disagreeable impression; the colors are gaudy, so that the costumes tend to overwhelm the faces and limbs, the figures look crude and often flat, and the architecture seems insubstantial and pedantic.” Another art historian, James Beck, goes farther, stating that, “A thing that’s 500 years old is 500 years old. Things happen to objects, surface accrues. When you take off that accrued surface, it’s never the same. . . . All works of art have the inalienable right to live an honorable life and, when necessary, to die a dignified death.”

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” also ran into trouble for a mistake near the arm of Christ, in which, according to The Daily Mail, the cuff Christ’s sleeve is now over the table as opposed to under it. No doubt, “The Last Supper” may always suffer a certain degree in from the paints used by Da Vinci in the piece. It will forever be in a state of deterioration. I wonder how it will look in a century or two.

No art critic or historian I know of, cried foul when “Ecce Homo” was deformed. According to the BBC, in 2012, a fresco of Christ by Elias Garcia Martinez in the Spanish town of Zaragoza, had been of high sentimental value to many who lived there for over 100 years. By 2012, however, the work was in an awful state of disrepair, so 82 year old Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to restore the image. The result became, in the words of Christian Fraser, “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.” To add irony to insult, the town’s local art preservation center had received a donation from Martinez’s granddaughter, Teresa, to restore the painting.

How did the world react to this viral news? Well, while Gimenez received a considerable amount of ridicule, and “Ecce Homo” (“Behold The Man”) now dubbed “Ecce Mono” (“Behold The Monkey”), became an Internet sensation, another meme to post on your Facebook wall. The Guardian reported that, “The image started appearing without authorisation on everything from T-shirts to mobile phone covers, coffee mugs and wine labels.” The article also noted that painting has attracted 40,000 visitors to the town, and raised nearly €50,000 euros for a local charity. According to Slate, Gimenez is suing for royalties, but she sues for health reasons. The octogenarian has been suffering “anxiety” from the inevitable harassment that assails the popular. She rarely leaves her home.

I initially thought that the painting was awful, like most others, but in the course of writing this, I have to admit, the monkey-messiah has grown on me. It has an absurd, almost surreal quality. I can certainly see its appeal and popularity.

At the same time, I am sympathetic to Teresa Martinez, who’s grandfather’s legacy has been made into a mockery. While, the old painter is more well-known than ever before, I don’t think that it’s for the right reasons. There are plenty of “Ecce Homo” paintings in the world, far better than Martinez’s, but I still thought it to be a fine, even thoughtful painting. Should we be so quick to dismiss Teresa’s concerns because the failed restoration makes a good meme? What does that say about our culture? Were “Ecce Homo” to be restored to its original state, I would be quite happy, but then, the local economy would suffer, wouldn’t it?

Having spent five years of my life in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I’m admittedly sympathetic to their needs of economic tourism. If the “Ecce Mono” painting will put bread on the tables of those in that town, then who am I to demand its removal? I couldn’t give them that kind of revenue. Besides, the painting is harmless, really, and new people are connecting to the arts. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

I suppose I see this is as a trade-off. By earning “Ecce Mono” we lose an insignificant, but sentimental and well-crafted piece. By earning “Ecce Homo”, on the other hand, we lose a unique, comedic aspect of the popular culture that can never be replicated. I should not be the one the make decision. Nor should anyone else but the people of Zaragoza. Whatever happens to the painting, I hope that art of Martinez, which has been ignored for so long, finally gets some spotlight. I also hope that Gimenez, too, can share her own artistic creations, free from harassment.

Originally published at http://sansuthecat.blogspot.com on October 26, 2014.

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Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

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I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com