MADRID — A year ago, Cecilia Gimenez’s botched attempt to restore a fresco of Christ inspired ridicule. Now, the 81-year-old Spanish artist is having the last laugh.
Since gaining worldwide attention, the disfigured fresco has drawn more than 40,000 visitors and raised more than $66,000 for a local charity in the town of Borja.
The art has also prompted the town to put the likeness on merchandise. And Gimenez has even had her own art exhibit, with two dozen of her other works showing through Aug. 24 in the town of 5,000.
Gimenez and a local council are set to sign a deal next week that splits profits from merchandise featuring the image, with the artist getting 49 percent, said councilor Juan Maria Ojeda.
The turnaround is apparently quite the relief for Gimenez, a retiree who was overwhelmed by the attention a year ago.
“Now it seems like everyone’s happy,” local paper Heraldo de Aragon quoted the once-media-shy Gimenez as saying in Sunday’s edition. “I’m grateful that things have quieted down.”
The fresco originally depicted Christ wearing a crown of thorns in a style known as “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”). The church painting was for decades a little-known piece of religious art by a minor Spanish artist. It had remained in peaceful obscurity in the Misericordia sanctuary since it was painted in 1930.
That was until Gimenez, a longtime devotee of the work, decided that it needed some attention because damp church air. was causing it to flake. Her attempt didn’t go so well, and some dubbed Gimenez’s retouching of it “Ecce Mono” (“Behold the Monkey”).
But the retouched version grew popular. The image started appearing — without authorization — on T-shirts and cellphone covers, coffee mugs and wine labels. People arrived in Borja asking to see the painting.
The council started charging an entrance fee of $1.30 and giving the money to the Sancti Spiritus charitable foundation, which used the windfall to help pay bills at a care home for elderly people. The council also got lawyers to establish copyright and draw up a merchandising agreement, which will see the image put on plates, postcards and cigarette lighters, among other items.
“It’s a timely agreement,” Ojeda, the councilor, said by phone from Borja. “The money is going to good causes.”