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The Worst Art Restorations: Complete Failures that Ruined Masterpieces

Not only did ‘Ecce Homo’ suffer serious damage in the attempt to restore it, but other works of great importance were also ruined.

There have been several works of art that have positioned themselves as the most important in the world, either for their aesthetic composition or for their profound manifestation of the sense of being. Many of them have become so famous for their cultural value; in addition to that, art has the nobility to help us build a collective historical identity.

What would humanity be without Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, which inspired great philosophical thoughts such as the one Michel Foucault wrote about the relationship between the subject and the object? Or without the Vitruvian Man by the great Leonardo da Vinci who taught us about the proportions of the body. That is why when a work of art is damaged, restoring it is of great importance to keep it alive in the collective imagination. However, it does not always go as expected. There are cases in which the restoration ends badly and these are some of the works that gained greater fame for having been ruined by their restorers.

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Ecce Homo

This is perhaps the restoration that attracted the most attention because it was done at a time when virality was already possible on social networks. Before its supposed restoration, the work, which was apparently painted by Elías García Martínez, was almost unknown. It is known to have been painted in the 19th century by García, a Spanish artist who was a professor at the Zaragoza School of Art.

In 2012, a neighbor near the town of Borja in Zaragoza, where the painting was exhibited, offered to restore it. However, the result was not as expected, and instead, a completely disfigured face of Jesus can now be seen.

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The Mask of Tutankhamun

It would seem that failed restorations only occur in situations where the restorer cannot perform the task. But even in the most famous museums, there are cases with failed results, such as Tutankhamun’s mask exhibited at the Cairo Museum in Egypt. In 2015 during a restoration of that work of great historical value, the well-known golden and blue chin of the pharaoh broke.

Instead of moving the statuette to the laboratory to analyze the situation and fix it, the staff decided to glue the chin with an industrial adhesive that left a mark between the beard and the pharaoh’s face. Unfortunately, the material used prevented the damage from being reversible, and now Tutankhamun has a large scar on his neck.

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The Castle of Matrera

At the end of the IX century, the Andalusian Omar Ben Hafsun, of great importance for the Spanish region, ordered the construction of the famous Castle of Matrera. This served as a fortress on the Cerro Pajarete to defend Iptuci during the rebellion against the Emirate of Cordoba.

For this reason, it is of great historical relevance, and in fact, it is considered a National Monument in Spain since 1949. Of course, the passing of the years has had a great impact on the construction that has survived over more than ten centuries, but in 2013 heavy rains caused the collapse of the towers. In 2016, it was decided to restore it. But the result has not been the most optimal, and it seems that what was once a great fortress is now just an intermingling of very old structures with modern ones.

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The ‘Caballito’

In front of the National Museum of Art in Mexico City, stands a statue of Charles IV, popularly known as El Caballito (The Little Horse). In 2013 the work suffered irreversible damage when nitric acid was applied to it, which ended up eliminating the patina surface that protected the work. The result is an odd-looking Charles that became extremely famous in the country through memes and social media.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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