Beast Jesus may have single-handedly saved the Spanish town of Borja, but now another municipality in northeastern Spain is grappling with a similarly disastrous (and viral) restoration debacle. A 16th-century polychromed equestrian statue of Saint George slaying the dragon has been painted in bold hues more befitting a comic book by a well-meaning crafts teacher in the small city of Estella, which sits about 130 kilometers north of Borja.

The wooden statue is housed in the town’s St. Michael’s Church. Before-and-after photo comparisons show a badly damaged but tonally subtle and complex sculpture that has been updated with a cartoonish palette. The makeover has not only changed the facial expression of Saint George to a kind of dumbfounded stare, but also obliterated many of the details in his ornate armor, which now resembles that of a toy knight.

“The parish decided on its own to take action to restore the statue and gave the job to a local handicrafts teacher. The council wasn’t told and neither was the regional government of Navarre,” Estella’s mayor, Koldo Leoz, told the Guardian. “It’s not been the kind of restoration that it should have been for this 16th-century statue. They’ve used plaster and the wrong kind of paint and it’s possible that the original layers of paint have been lost.” On Monday, the mayor tweeted a photo of a newspaper article about the botched restoration, commenting: “Today, Estella isn’t in the news because of its spectacular historical, artistic, architectural, or cultural heritage.”

Spain’s national organization of professional art restorers (ACRE) has been even more adamant in its criticism of the restoration. “We cannot tolerate more attacks on our cultural heritage,” the group said in an official statement. Local art restorer Carmen Usúa, the owner of ArtUs Restauración, told the New York Times: “As a professional, I feel disconcerted and very offended. It takes years to acquire the skills necessary to carry out these kind of restorations, so imagine the frustration when something like this happens.”

Others, meanwhile, see the humor in the statue’s radical transformation and its potential draw as a tourist attraction. Estella’s tourism office has been enthusiastically tweeting various stories about the viral statute, as has the tourism agency for the region of Navarre.

Internet users, meanwhile, seem most divided on the question of whether the restored statue more closely resembles the famous Belgian comic book character Tintin, a Disney character, a Playmobil figure, or the British comedian Marty Feldman.

What do you think?

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

One reply on “Botched Spanish Sculpture Restoration Evokes the Infamy of Beast Jesus”

  1. In small European towns, when the mayor’s council gather to discuss the current affairs, a large group of people usually wants to do what is “fastest, simplest, cheapest”, and a small minority will sometimes voice concerns and suggest proper behavior. This raises again the issue of large amounts of valuable art pieces all throughout Europe, which lack the proper budget to be properly taken care of.

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