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Art restoration fails from around the world: A compilation of paintings and statues that went horribly wrong

These masterpieces had fallen into the hands of bungling art restorers – but are these blunders forgivable?

Art restorers don’t have it easy. These individuals are tasked with the meticulous work of restoring prized old artworks to their former glory – a painstaking process that could take up to months or years. But art restorers, too, have their share of gaffes occasionally, albeit expensive ones. These are the five most outlandish art restoration attempts that have left the world in fits of laughter and the art community anguished.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, art restoration fail
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s original artwork (most left) and the two restoration attempts

A mangled Virgin Mary

An attempt to reinstate a copy of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables had transformed a painting of Virgin Mary into a contorted figure with red lips – a disturbing restoration fail that prompted the experts in Spain to call for more stringent regulations. Apparently, the first restorer wasn’t the only one not taking the job seriously. A second attempt by another restorer to turn the marred copy back to its original state resulted in a complete disfiguration of the artwork instead. Some things are meant to be left untouched, we’d say.

St. George
The restoration of a 500-year-old sculpture of Saint George left it looking like a cartoon character instead. Photo courtesy of news.artnet.com

A misguided St. George

When taking up an art restoration job, never perform the task half-heartedly. But the company behind the restoration of the 500-year-old statue of the legendary St. George at the Church of San Miguel de Estella in Spain seemed to have completely underestimated the responsibility of an art restorer. The company presented what turned out to be an Internet-wide laughing-stock – specifically a figure with pale pink skin and poorly painted eyes. Both the company and the church were reportedly fined €6,000 (S$9,650), and it took three months and a hefty US$37,000 (S$59,500) to restore the statue to its original state.

Michaelangelo, Sistine chapel, art restoration fail
Some of the characters’s in Michelangelo’s masterpiece lost their eyes in the restoration process

Lost eyes of the Sistine Chapel

One of the most extensive restoration works of the 20th century was the restoration of frescoes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel – but it was deemed unsuccessful by art critics. For good reason, of course, because at the end of it, some of the characters in the painting sadly even lost their eyes.

Elías García Martínez's Ecce Homo, art restoration fail
Cecilia Giménez’s infamous restore attempt of Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo (right)

Monkey Christ

In 2012, Cecilia Giménez had the best intentions to breathe new life into Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo, but things went awry during the restoration process. Giménez reportedly didn’t complete the job as intended as she had to leave town for a trip – but her incomplete efforts came to the attention of a historical association shortly after. The fresco was then dubbed as Monkey Christ, because of its newly primate features, and Jesus’ crown of thorns had instead been transformed into what seemed like a furry Russian ushanka hat.

Louvre's Leonardo was overcleaned, say art experts
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne was overcleaned, say art experts. Photo courtesy of the Louvre, Paris

The brightened Virgin and Child

When Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1503) was given a restoration, removing centuries of dirt and discolouration in the process, the final outcome of the artwork was strikingly brighter than the original. The event naturally shook the community of Western art enthusiasts – so much so that two conservation experts decided to quit their advisory roles in protest over the techniques used to clean the painting.