We have no record of what color the Virgin Mary’s hair was when she gave birth to Jesus, but it probably wasn’t turquoise. Likewise, it’s doubtful that she wore purple lipstick and black eyeliner.

Finding her place in what is quickly becoming a grand tradition of botched restoration projects in Spain, a local shopkeeper from the small, approximately sixteen-person village of El Rañadorio in the Asturias region has attracted international flack for her artistic makeover of a series of 15th century wooden sculptures depicting the Virgin and Child, St. Anna, and St. Peter.

The before and after of the Mary and Jesus sculpture (image courtesy LA Nueva España)

“I’m not a professional painter, but I’ve always enjoyed it, and these images really were in need of painting,” María Luisa Menéndez, the local tobacco shopkeeper responsible for this latest painting fiasco said in a statement to the newspaper El Comercio, adding that the local clergy had given her permission. “So I painted them the best I could, with the colors that seemed right, and the neighbors like it.”

While everyone should be allowed their own interpretation of religious figures, few would argue that repainting a 15th-century wooden sculpture qualifies as a responsible flight of fancy. It is unclear if the paint Menéndez applied to the figures could be removed, or if the original polychrome paint can be recovered. The Guardian reports that these statues were actually restored by professionals 15 years ago.

The publication actually contacted one of that project’s restorers, Luis Suárez Saro, to record his horrified response. “They’ve used the kind of industrial enamel paint they sell for painting anything and absolutely garish and absurd colors,” he said. “The result is just staggering. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Saro also indicated that the Virgin and Child were never painted before Menéndez laid her brushes on the holy duo.

The New York Times has reported that the regional authorities might initiate legal action, citing laws protecting Spanish cultural heritage and requiring full authorization for any alterations, even in cases of good intentions.

"Beast Jesus" and its former self (photo via @oortin/Instagram)

“Beast Jesus,” right, alongside its former self (photo via @oortin/Instagram)

Arguably the first botched restoration project to gain public infamy was the 2012 “ecce homo” fresco fiasco that occurred in yet another sleepy town of Spain, called Borja. Town and church officials there were quick to capitalize on the controversy, installing an arts center for Beast Jesus in 2016 months before the the mangled, monkey Jesus became the subject of a comic opera that premiered in the courtyard of the fresco’s church, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy.

In June of this year, the small Spanish city of Estella was also home to another botched sculptural restoration that saw St. George on horseback transform into Tintin. In that context, Menéndez was certainly more benevolent toward her subject. Sure, Jesus looks like a Playmobil character, but the Virgin Mary looks like singer-songwriter Grimes.

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.

4 replies on “15th-Century Virgin Mary Sculpture Gets a Very Special Makeover”

  1. That’s not hair, folks, that’s a wimple, a covering worn by medieval women and many orders of nuns. How about a little reseach first?

  2. My name is Margarita Acuña, and I am a spanish restorator with a huge training. I have been working for more than twenty years for the Ministry of Culture of Spain. I have been restoring, with my coleagues of profession, the best paintings, sculptures, books, textiles and all of the best works of art of the Spanish Heritage. All this time, but in the last years even worse, our government has been treating us with great disdain and disconsideration and keeps on doing it with impertinence.
    So this kind of notices doesn’t susprise us at all. They almost make us laugh, unfortunately. In Spain the restaurators are disdained personal and professionally by our politics. A very representative example is our salary, that in my case, has been 1.200 euros (1.390$) por the last 20 years (as a permanent employee and after passing a national public examination). I have colleagues not permanent that are restauring first line works of art for the Ministry of Culture earning less than 1.000 euros (1.150$) monthly.
    Zara employees have better salaries than us, or even supermarket employees like Mercadona or Carrefour.
    My personal conclusion is that the politics hate us and want us to abandon, and the result is that the works of art are restored (again) by the first person who appears. In the cases described, the Catholic Church is the owner of this Heritage, and they do what they want with it because the Government allows them to do it, and even doesn’t allow restaurators to take part. Church orders. It is their heritage and their loss at the end.
    In Spain, today, to be a heritage restaurator is one of the worst elections you can do. You’d better choose to be a restaurant “restaurator”, which is a profession
    completely in fashion.
    Margarita Acuna (really sad)

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