Well, I always maintain that Pink Slip doesn’t do politics or religion. But, as my sister Trish will tell me, you don’t need to be Nate Silver to figure out my politics, or the Pope to figure out my religion (or lack there-of).*
But this post is not really - 0r not totally - about religion. It’s about art. And restoration. And self-delusion. Followed by self-realization.
Ecce Homo, which depicts Christ just before his crucifixion, was not exactly what anyone would classify as great art. But it had been on the wall of a church in Spain for over one hundred years, and, apparently, the parishioners liked it.
One of them, 80 year old Cecilia Giménez, was so upset about its deterioration that she decided to try her hand at restoration.
That’s before on the left and after on the right, by the way.
There’s quite a swirl forming around this.
I’ve read that when Giménez’ work was discovered, some authorities suspected vandalism. Then they claimed that Giménez was acting on her own, with no permission/authority to do her, ahem, touch up. And that they are considering legal action against her.
But Ms. Giménez later defended herself, saying she could not understand the uproar because she had worked in broad daylight and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergy. “The priest knew it,” she told Spanish TV. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.” (Source: NY Times.)
I’ve also read that Ms. Giménez had a moment of epiphany, and outed herself to her town’s cultural affairs director.
Whatever the story is, it came out when descendants of the artist, Elías Garcia Martínez, started making plans to restore the work. Only to find they were a tad too late.
Some folks are carrying on as if Giménez had defaced a Velasquez, a Goya, an El Greco, rather than painted over a decidedly pedestrian example of the Cloyingly Sentimental, Saccharine to the Nth Degree, School of Religious Art.
You don’t even have to be someone who stuffed her St. Joseph Missal with holy cards to recognize it. Every saint, male and female alike, looked exactly the same: pale, insipid, and – if I may – holier than thou.
You could only tell who was who from the clues: lamb = St. Agnes; wheel = St. Catherine; lily and/or miter bend = St. Joseph’s. Sometimes the color scheme was the hint. If he’s wearing green, it’s St. Jude (young, beardless) or St. Patrick (old, bearded, wearing a mitre but not carrying a miter bend).
Only in the world of Cloyingly Sentimental, Saccharine to the Nth Degree, School of Religious Art would St. Francis of Assisi, an ethereal mystic, look exactly like St. Francis Xavier, who was rugged enough to have traveled all over Asia, building dozens of churches and baptizing hundreds of thousands of pagans. The only difference: Francis A has a tonsure and a bird in hand; Francis X has a full head of hair and is carrying a crucifix.
If you question my judgment of the art of Elías Garcia Martínez as being unduly harsh, I give you Exhibit B, a prime example of the Cloyingly Sentimental, Saccharine to the Nth Degree, School of Religious Art. (Note to cousin MB: this Madonna is eerily reminiscent of Blinky-Eye Jesus, is it not?) Anyway, my point is that Cecilia Giménez wasn’t desecrating a great work of art, albeit it was no doubt something that gave comfort to pious worshippers, among whom Ms. Giménez could no doubt be counted.
Everyone can’t be an artistic genius, of course, so the comparison is unfair, but ecce a work of religious art by another (quasi) Spaniard, El Greco. No mooning piety here, my friends. Just someone who actually looks like a human being: pained, frightened, wondering ‘what next’ and ‘why me’. And remarkably virile, I might add. (Although with the hands of a pianist, not a carpenter.) Which is in sharp contrast to Ecce Homo.
Well, if Elías Garcia Martínez is no El Greco, neither is Cecilia Giménez. Although I’ve got to say that, if I cover over the mal-formed mouth, there’s something to like about her Christus: he’s actually making eye contact, rather than staring off into space. And am I the only one who sees a touch of Modigliani here?
Anyway, I certainly don’t think that Ms. Giménez should be prosecuted. By gunking over a piece of bad art, she may have done the world a favor. But I do think that her brief career as an art restorer has come to a screeching halt.
*You are perhaps familiar with the local expression ‘baptized a Catholic, but born a Democrat.’
And a tip of the painter’s beret to my sister Trish, who pointed this story out to me, with the comment “reminds me of those ads that used to be in the back of Parade magazine - are you an artist?” My sister Kath’s take on this: “She turned JC into a yeti.”