Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo

The ‘Ecce Homo‘ [ech-ey hoh-moh] (‘Behold the Man’) in the Sanctuary of Mercy church of Borja, Zaragoza is a fresco of about 1930 by the Spanish painter Elías García Martínez depicting Jesus crowned with thorns. Both the subject and style are typical of traditional Catholic art.

Press accounts agree that the original painting was of little artistic importance, and its fame derives from a botched attempt at restoration.

The artist, a professor at the School of Art of Zaragoza, gave the painting to the village where he used to spend his holidays, painting it directly on the wall of the church about 1930. He commented that ‘this is the result of two hours of devotion to the Virgin of Mercy. His descendants still reside in Zaragoza and were aware that the painting had deteriorated seriously; his grand-daughter had made a donation toward its restoration shortly before they discovered Cecilia Giménez’s attempt to restore it.

The painting rose to the status of an Internet phenomenon in August 2012. Cecilia Giménez, an 80-year-old amateur artist living locally, painted over the fresco in an attempt to restore it. BBC Europe correspondent Christian Fraser said that the result resembled a ‘crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.’ The restored version has been jokingly dubbed ‘Ecce Mono’ (‘Behold the Monkey,’ ‘ecce’ is Latin, whereas ‘mono’ is Spanish for ‘monkey’) in an ‘online rush of global hilarity,’ and compared to the plot of the film ‘Bean.’ Because of the negative attention, the priest of the church, Father Florencio Garces, thinks the painting should be covered up.

Tongue-in-cheek critiques have interpreted the piece as a multifaceted comment on both sacred and secular themes. A ‘Forbes’ commentator suggested that the ‘inept restoration’ represented ‘one woman’s vision of her savior, uncompromised by schooling.’ An online petition signed by more than 20,000 people describes it as ‘a clever reflection of the political and social situation of our time. It portrays a subtle critique of the creationist theories of the Church, while questioning the emergence of new idols.’ In September 2012 the artistic group Wallpeople presented hundreds of reworked versions of the new image on a wall near the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. An organizer commented that ‘Cecilia has created a pop icon.’

The interest from tourists was such that the church began charging to see the fresco. In the year following the failed restoration, tourist activity generated 40,000 visits and more than €50,000 for a local charity. Giménez has sought a share of the royalties. Her lawyer said that she wanted her share of the profits to help muscular atrophy charities, because her son suffers from the condition.

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