The Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) in the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Spain, is a fresco painted circa 1930 by the Spanish painter Elías García Martínez depicting Jesus crowned with thorns. Both the subject and style are typical of traditional Catholic art.
While press accounts agree that the original painting was artistically unremarkable, its fame derives from a good faith attempt to restore the fresco by Cecilia Giménez, an untrained elderly amateur, in 2012. The intervention transformed the painting and made it look similar to a monkey, and for this reason it is sometimes known as Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey).
The artist, a professor at the School of Art of Zaragoza, gave the painting to the village where he used to spend his holidays, painting it directly on the wall of the church in about 1930. He commented that ”this is the result of two hours of devotion to the Virgin of Mercy”. His descendants still reside in Zaragoza and were aware that the painting had deteriorated seriously; his grand-daughter had made a donation toward its restoration shortly before they discovered that the work had been radically altered in an incomplete attempt to restore it.
The authorities in Borja said they had suspected vandalism at first, but then determined that the alterations had been made by an elderly parishioner, Doña Cecilia Giménez, who was in her 80s. She said on Spanish national television that she had started to restore the fresco, because she was upset that parts of it had flaked off due to moisture on the church’s walls. Giménez defended herself, saying she could not understand the uproar because she had worked in broad daylight and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergyman. ”The priest knew it,” she told Spanish television. ”I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.”
News of the disfigured painting spread around the globe in August 2012 on mainstream and social media, which promptly led to the status of an internet phenomenon. BBC Europe correspondent Christian Fraser said that the result resembled a ”crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic”. The restored version has been jokingly dubbed ”Ecce Mono” (’Behold the Monkey,’ ecce is Latin, whereas mono is Spanish for ’monkey’; in Latin, it is simius) in an ”online rush of global hilarity”, and compared to the plot of the film Bean. Because of the negative attention, the priest of the church, Father Florencio Garces, thought the painting should be covered up.[