SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 8:36AM

Spanish art "restorer" demands royalties for "Monkey Jesus"

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Ecce Homo of Borja
Ecce Homo or monkey's uncle?
El Pais)



IT’S AN AGE-OLD TRUTH: There’s no accounting for artistic taste, but pretty much everyone understands the value of money. This is the experience of the Spanish town of Borja, which hit global headlines this past summer when a local pensioner surreptitiously “restored” a deteriorating nineteenth century fresco of Jesus in a hilltop chapel by essentially transforming it into a monkey.


The case first attracted contempt, then ridicule, then a lawsuit by the original artist’s heirs, and finally thousands of tourists, who have been paying four euros a pop to take a gander at Spain’s very first Holy Ape. The local hotel and restaurant business is booming, and the budget airline Ryan Air has even set up a special flight to nearby Zaragoza airport to handle the flow of offbeat art lovers. It seems that many visitors who would otherwise have walked passed artist Elías García Martínez’ unremarkable Ecce Homo fresco, recognize its revised form as a truly original incarnation of the Savior of Us All.


In fact, the Spanish daily El Pais tells us, soon after the transfiguration took place an online petition appeared calling for the preservation of the image as it now appears:


The bold, spontaneous work of the artist on the Ecce Homo in the Chapel of Mercy in Borja is also an intimate act of love, a clever reflection of the social and political situation of our time, which shows a subtle critique of the creationist theories of the Church, and also questions the emergence of new idols. … The result of the intervention cleverly combines the primitive expressionism of Francisco de Goya with figures such as Ensor, Munch, Modigliani or the Brücke group of German Expressionism.


Shouldn't the town also pay royalties to the Japanese Sekiguchi Corporation, which introduced the first Monchhichi toys in 1974?
(Source: Wiki Commons)


Now, the Guardian tells us, eighty year-old Cecilia Giménez, who now has over 30,000 “friends” on Facebook, has engaged the services of a lawyer to get her own piece of the action and start pulling in some of that tourist money. She has done so after repeatedly apologizing for the botched restoration, which she maintains she began with good intentions but which soon “got out of hand.” According to her sister in a telephone interview with the Spanish press, “She did it with all the good faith in the world. She just wanted to give it a bit of color, because the church is in very poor condition. … She has always had a passion for painting, ever since childhood. And she did it to make the church more beautiful, to help.”


As I said above, art is one thing, money is another. And yet, Giménez’ financial intentions are anything but mercenary. She promises to donate any royalties she receives to a charity for amyotrophy, a degenerative muscle disease from which her son is suffering.


Now it really would be worth writing postcards about if this fortuitous metamorphosis led to a cure for this dreaded ailment. So perhaps we should simply thank heaven for small miracles. I mean, stranger things by far have happened across the vast history of Catholic devotion. And just in case spontaneous healings start occurring at the foot of Borja’s Ecce Homo, you might want to stay on the safe side and book that flight to Zaragoza today.


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I know it's wrong and very immature of me, but I find something kind of endearing, something gangsta, something punk rock, about Ms. Gimenez and her monkey Jesus.....
@Chiller Pop
Yes indeed! And this episode also shows that Spanish Catholics have evolved light years since the dark days of the Inquisition. If this had gone down back then, there literally would have been Hell to pay...
Zaragoza is definitiely on my itinerary for my next trip to Spain. I can’t pass up an opportunity to witness the “Holly Ape” first hand.

Nice story Alan.
This post sent me through a rollercoaster ride of emotions. First, I was like, WTF! After all, though the original image wasn't particularly noteworthy, it was someone's art, a part of them, and to have destroyed it is horrendous. Then, I read about how this botched restoration has been beneficial for so many local businesses. Wow. Then, the wanting money. WTF again - but it's for charity! I am now on Monkey Jesus Lady's side! Thanks for the great reporting.
Enjoyed your article, very interesting actually. I have always been reluctant to try to draw Jesus's face, but in one of my first paintings, when I was in my 40's was of Jesus holding a child. Surprizingly Jesus turned out wonderful, but the child looked like a monkey clinging to him. I fondly refer to the picture as "Jesus holding the monkey." ( Too bad I destroyed the picture knowing I may be Hell-bound.) Lol JK.
Thanks for the update, it kind of puts the whole thing in a perspective not originally reported.
Say, what if we all put our money together and charter a special OS flight down to Zaragoza? What a party that would be!

Thanks. I'm trying to figure out why I get such a kick out of it. Perhaps because it's so much more benign than the news out of Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and everywhere else in the Muhammad crisis-of-the-week?

Yes, I've never been able to draw the human figure worth a damn. My people also come out looking like monkeys. It gives you renewed respect for genuine artists.

Thanks. I find you can always write an interesting story if you take the time to check out local sources. Interviews are even better, but I'm not likely to get to Zaragoza anytime soon.
Brings a smile to my face... hope the lawyers stay out of it!! ;-)
With that said, I am fully in support of cultural preservation, and in theory and principle oppose the monkey Jesus.
shows the power of publicity in the art world and the strange compulsion of people to see something they heard about just to be part of the story; once established you soon have experts explaining why its really art, for good or bad but generally for the terrible-