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Saturday August 17, 2013

Spanish pensioner who went ape has the last laugh

A year ago this month, pensioner Cecilia Gimenez from the sleepy village of Borja in northeastern Spain caused an international storm with her ham-fisted attempt at restoring a valuable fresco in the local village church. The painting of Christ with traditional crown of thorns known as ‘Ecce homo’ was soon mischievously dubbed ‘Ecce mono’ because of the monkey-like features given to Jesus by the well-meaning octogenarian parishioner.

Ridiculed by the media and sent up by many a comedian and TV show such as Saturday Night Live in the US, poor bewildered Señora Gimenez could not understand what she had done wrong. Rather than having committed an act of barbarity on the ancient painting she truly believed that her intervention with the brush had stopped its deterioration. She became fretful, downbeat and had a panic attack due to all the adverse publicity. There was even talk of her being prosecuted for botching the restoration work even though she insisted that the priest of the Sanctuary of Mercy Church had given her his blessing to work on the canvas.

Much was made of the fact that art specialists would need to be recruited to try to restore the damage done to the 19th century work by Elias Garcia Martinez but when eager tourists began turning up by the coach load to visit the ruined work, things changed. A €1 fee per visitor was hastily introduced at the church with monies raised donated to a local charitable foundation. The once quiet little Aragonese village has now by all accounts become a tourist haven so far receiving 40,000 visitors and earning the church €50,000.

Despite having faced global mockery twelve months ago, the 82 year-old pensioner has now experienced a remarkable reversal of fortune. The village of Borja recently rallied round, exhibiting 28 of her original works and establishing copyright of the ‘Ecce mono’ image in order to create lucrative merchandise. Until now the image has been reproduced worldwide without approval on T-shirts, sweets, wine labels, mobile phone covers and mugs with none of the profits benefiting the local Spanish community.

All that is set to change and new funds raised from copyrighted merchandise such as postcards, plates and cigarette lighters including other paintings by the artist sold on Ebay will be used for charitable purposes. Happily it seems that for Cecilia Gimenez at least, every cloud really does have a silver lining.

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