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St George is cross, probably

28 June 2018

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

A lot of faith is being placed in England’s performance in this year’s World Cup, and the flag of St George is flying proudly from Brighton to Berwick. Elsewhere, however, the country’s patron saint is having a rougher time. In Estella, northern Spain, a 16th-century wooden sculpture of George has been defaced beyond recognition after a botched renovation effort. The church in which it is housed says it hired a local art teacher to clean the effigy, but ended up with an almost completely different object on their hands.

Before and after photographs of the sculpture have become an internet sensation, with social media users comparing the new-look work to everything from Tintin to the rather more dramatically ‘restored’ Ecce Homo in a church near Zaragoza. Yet in spite of the attention it has received, officials from the town of Estella are far from amused. ‘The restoration project should have been presented to the authorities and dependent on their agreement,’ the town’s mayor is reported to have said. Others went somewhat further. ‘What a great loss,’ wrote one Facebook user quoted by the BBC. ‘Prison sentences would prevent these attacks on our heritage.’

Not everyone is quite so angry, however. Simon Jenkins, journalist and former chairman of the National Trust, has come to the defence of St George’s unintended spruce-up. ‘Of course it is best to call in expertise and skill where a work is significant,’ he writes in his Guardian column. ‘But a simple sculpture brought back to life by a local person, however naively, is surely closer to history than any scholarly visitation.’ Superstitious England fans will be hoping he’s right…

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