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The potato head of Palencia: defaced Spanish statue latest victim of botched restoration

Conservation professionals have questioned why Spain's heritage is continually handed over to those with no formal training

Before and after of the disastrously restored statue, which adorns a high street bank in the Spanish city of Palencia © Antonio Guzmán Capel / Facebook

Conservation experts in Spain are once again calling for stricter regulations within the sector after yet another work has been irreparably damaged by an amateur restorer.

Adorning the facade of a high street bank in the north-western city of Palencia, the statue, first unveiled in 1923, once depicted a smiling woman carved among a pastoral scene of livestock. But following a disastrous restoration attempt, its face has been crudely reduced to "a cartoon head", writes local painter Antonio Guzmán Capel, who first brought the story to attention in a Facebook post.

The altered work has been described as a "potato" and has drawn comparisons to the US president Donald Trump. “Seeing as he has to leave the White House, he’s moved in here,” commented Victorio Macho Rogado in response to Capel's post.

The potato head of Palencia now joins a pantheon of other botched jobs in Spain, the most infamous of which still remains the 2012 "Monkey Christ" restoration of Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo fresco in the town of Borja. More recent incidents include a failed attempt in Valencia earlier this year to treat a painting of the Virgin Mary—which is a copy of a 17th-century work by the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Responding to the Palencia restoration, Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE) wrote on Twitter that the job was "NOT a professional restoration".

Many conservation professionals have once again taken to social media to question why Spain's heritage is continually allowed to be treated by those with apparently no formal training.

"Restoring is not repairing, serious interventions must follow criteria, which are internationally approved, as well as those applied by the IPCE [the Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute], and other accredited entities that exist in Spain," tweeted the Valencia-based conservator Illanos Argudo (@llangarcia1).

Speaking in July to the Spanish outlet Europa Press, ACRE's vice president Maria Borjas said that ACRE is committed to setting up stricter regulations within the industry.

Borjas added that botched restoration jobs are far more common than we assume, with only a portion being brought to light via social media.

"They are unfortunately much more frequent than you think," she said. "Spain's cultural heritage is in a fairly vulnerable situation."

The identity of the Palencia restorer has not yet been reported.