Botched painting restoration fuels calls for new rules to protect artworks

Conservationist claims politicians ‘don’t give a toss’ in wake of ‘Potato Madonna’ fiasco

Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables
The original Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables by Murillo at the Prado Museum in Madrid
(Image credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

Art lovers are calling for new rules governing restoration after a famous 17th century painting by Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo got an unwelcome makeover.

A private collector in Valencia reportedly paid €1,200 (£1,084) to a furniture restorer to clean a copy of The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables. But “the job did not go as planned and the face of the Virgin Mary was left unrecognisable despite two attempts to restore it to its original state”, says The Guardian.

The Daily Mail adds that the restorer’s first effort left “Mary’s face disfigured”, and a “subsequent attempt to correct it just made it worse”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The incident is the latest in a string of bungled restoration attempts, including the infamous “Monkey Christ” incident eight years ago, when a parishioner tried to refresh a painting of Christ on the wall of a church in the northeastern Spanish town of Borja.

See more

The so-called “Potato Madonna” row has prompted calls from Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (Acre) to impose government regulation on restoration.

“We see this kind of thing time and time again and yet it keeps on happening,” former Acre president Fernando Carrera, a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, told The Guardian.

“I don’t think this guy, or these people, should be referred to as restorers. Let’s be honest - they’re bodgers who botch things up. They destroy things.”

Carrera added that part of the problem with regulating art restoration is that some politicians “just don't give a toss about heritage”.

However, some commentators have suggested that the latest restoration disaster might have an upside. Monkey Christ “enlivened his town’s stream of tourist cash, which has in turn allowed Borja to better care for its seniors”, says The Cut.

“His appearance in Borja has arguably proved something of a blessing, so perhaps we should not judge the Potato Madonna on her appearance,” the site adds. “Like mother like son, we hope.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.