Conservators or art restorers are considered the magicians of the art world. Over the course of time, paintings are bound to lose their original color, suffer damage and fade… and thanks to highly skilled conservators, we are able to restore these pieces back to their original glory. But sometimes, very rarely, these beautiful pieces get ruined by someone and the damage is irreversible.
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7 - Leave it to the experts
Imagine a restoration being the reason that people quit their jobs? That’s what happened when experts saw this restoration of the Virgin and Child with St Anne. This painting was done by Leonardo da Vinci, and some experts quit their jobs in protest when they saw this version. As clearly seen, the painting is vastly lighter, as if this scenario took place on a sunny day. These experts claim that this is in complete contrast to Da Vinci’s vision. Although, how would we really know what was going through his head at the time of painting this masterpiece?
6 - A Whiter Shade of Pale
There are very few portraits of Shakespeare in the world, and two were irreversibly ruined. The team in charge of restoring the painting assumed they were removing an outer layer of paint to reveal the original paintings underneath. Turns out, they ended up wiping away the original artwork. It’s believed the paintings were altered during Shakespeare’s lifetime and that the artists back then did it purposefully to show how he had aged. So, when the top layer was removed, underneath was a younger-looking Shakespeare. Currently, the National Portrait Gallery is deciding whether or not to clean up one of their portraits of Shakespeare, which hasn’t been touched up in 400-years!
5 - Not your best look
Head on over to Russia and you’ll find quite a large number of Lenin statues around, but none quite like this one. In Krasnodar Krai one such statue underwent a bit of restoration. It turned out like a bit of a monkey, and remained that way until photos circulated online in 2016, and only after that was he given a make-over to return him to his former self.
4 - A change is as good as a holiday
You would think that taking something that is already in ruins and giving it a make-over would automatically improve it – but not in this case. Not a piece of art per se, but the El Castillo de Matrera is a historical castle from 9th century Spain. This National Monument was damaged by intense rain in 2013, so a project was undertaken to restore it. The end result looks like the original bricks have been stuck on a grey concrete building. It was called a “heritage massacre” and many people were left deeply shocked by the outcome, although ironically – the building was nominated for an Architizer A+ Award and actually won the people’s choice!
3 - Quite the artist
A restoration project that made headlines globally took place in a 16th-century Spanish Church and the artist in question was Cecilia Giménez. The 81-year old lady quickly received the nickname Ecce Mono, which means Behold the Monkey, because she transformed a 19th century fresco of Jesus into something closely resembling a monkey. She thought she was doing the Church a favor, and initially it was anything but – however, give it a bit of a time and she ended up doing the sleep town a huge favor. Misericordia has received thousands of visitors through their doors, all hoping to catch a glance of her artwork and they’ve all left some wonderful donations, very much needed by the Church.
2 - World’s Worst
The restoration of the Great Wall of China has been called the “World’s Worst Restoration”, although after seeing our previous entry – it’s quite possible this restoration project has lost its number 1 spot. It’s no secret that the Great Wall of China is slowly decaying, and a number of years ago a task team set out to reconstruct a certain section of it, which they did – using concrete! The Chinese slammed this terrible job online, and many promises were made to ensure nothing like that ever happened again!
1 - More often, they just get it right
After seeing all the disastrous efforts of restoration, let’s have a look at one that is mind-blowingly amazing! The Adoration of the Shepherds, by the Italian Renaissance master Sebastiano del Piombo, was in total ruins. It really looked like there was no hope for it. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge commissioned this restoration, and it took them 10-years to complete! The painting dates back to 1511 – 1512, and if you see it today, it would be hard to imagine it as this old painting that almost didn’t make it.