Botched Art Restoration Ruins Renaissance-Style Statue in Spain

art lovers dismayed by amateur restoration, yielding grotesque face of statue

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Another poor art restoration has made a statue look like it has a potato head, NPR reported. The statue depicted a woman smiling over livestock, though now her face is cartoonish and unrecognizable. The Protestant Reformation snubbed Renaissance-style art in the church.

Old church interior
Renaissance-style paintings and sculpture were considered inappropriate within the church during the Protestant Reformation. Photo By Benjamin Haas / Shutterstock

According to NPR, art lovers and professional art restorers in Spain have a new restoration making them see red. “A melted face with two round cavities standing in for eyes, a misshapen lump approximating a nose, and an agape maw of a mouth: Behold the latest art ‘restoration’ gone completely wrong in Spain,” the article said.

“The Palencia statue, which formerly was of a smiling lady placed within a country scene, adorns part of the façade of a bank in this city of some 78,000 in the country’s north.”

The article said that the original statue was unveiled in 1923, while the restored piece is being compared to a “potato head.” Renaissance-style art like the original Palencia statue fell out of favor with the public during the Protestant Reformation’s changes in church appearances.

On the Basis of Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs

During the sweeping changes of the Protestant Reformation, religious art and holy objects from traditional Catholicism were rejected as not being appropriate to be in sacred places like the church.

“The reformers’ emphasis on a scripturally-based faith provided the most pointed and, for some, the most relevant grounds for opposition,” said Dr. Jennifer McNabb, Professor of History and the Chair of the Department of History at Western Illinois University.

“Take the Second of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.'”

Dr. McNabb said this “biblical prohibition” of graven images went hand-in-hand with a criticism that attempting to depict and understand God was beyond man and therefore a profanation of the sacred. In other words, the fanciful statues of pre-Reformation Christianity had two cases made against them.

Will Paint for Food

According to Dr. McNabb, the largest “cleansing” of religious icons and imagery from churches occurred in Antwerp in 1566, during a time known as the Revolt of the Low Countries.

“Many art historians have noted the pronounced impact that this rejection of decoration had on northern painters in Protestant lands,” she said. “So many of their commissions had, in prior times, come from the project of religious art for churches, chapels, and monasteries. But with the monasteries shut, and churches stripped of their ornamental impulse, painters sought new patrons—patrons for whom new types of images would appeal.”

Until this time, portraiture had been a privilege of the upper class, with wealthy elites showing off their portraits to prove the material worth of the family. However, with fewer religious clients, artists found themselves broadening their clientele.

“And a passion for rustic, natural scenes of rural life and for urban and domestic realism pivoted artists in Protestand lands into vibrant new artistic endeavors.”

Fortunately, none of them seem to have left behind any “potato heads” of their own.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Image of Professor Jennifer McNabb, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer McNabb contributed to this article. Dr. McNabb is a Professor of History and the Chair of the Department of History at Western Illinois University. She received her PhD in History from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2003.