Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ecce Homo and Copyright

Rarely does the role of the amateur restorer achieve such notoriety as that of octogenarian Cecilia Gimenez.  In fact I cannot remember a so called ' conservation story ' ( well it involves conservators or likely will do somewhere along the line) making headlines to this extent in the mainstream press.

The basic facts are that Cecilia decided to retouch the 'Ecce Homo" ( Behold the Man) fresco in the Spanish church of Santurario de Misericordia near Zaragoza, by the late nineteenth century Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez, as she was concerned by its deterioration.

Unfortunately her efforts left Jesus looking like a very hairy monkey in an ill fitting tunic, hence its new name, 'Ecce Mono' (Behold the Monkey).

The result of all this coverage is that 1,000 people a day are turning up at said church to view the simian look alike, the crowds being such that the entrepreneurial church elders have decided to charge 1 Euro per visitor.

And this is where it gets interesting!  Where does the money go?  Cecilia is claiming copyright as people are coming to see her work, and wants the money to go to charity to support muscular dystrophy from which her son suffers.  The sixteen grandchildren of the artist have different ideas, on the basis they own the copyright.

I'm not sure what the Spanish law will decide, but in Australia I have recently discovered that conservators can in certain instances actually claim copyright over the works they have treated. Although this has yet to be tested in court , it is clear from existing copyright judgements that where the conservator is bringing to the  treatment of the artwork their own artistic ability in terms of independent skill and judgement, then copyright belongs to them.
And it is a principle of copyright law that once the copyright is deemed to be vested in the part of the artwork that has been treated, then the whole work and not just the treated parts become subject to copyright.   Clearly for most of our work as conservators this is not relevant. But when we undertake a major inpainting project or the complete repatination of a sculpture, then it would appear that copyright belongs to the conservator.

Given that Ecce Homo falls into this bracket, it would appear therefore that copyright does belong to Cecilia ( along with the a share of the income from visitors, mousepads, t-shirts, puzzles, travel mugs, mobile phone cases etc etc).


  1. I don't suppose you could link to a couple of Australian examples of where curators have come across this, or where Australian academics have argued this - in either direction?

  2. Hi Liam,
    We have a current project where this issue threatens to get litigious which is why I know about it. You could contact me direct and I could point you towards a similar case.

  3. She destroyed the original painting beyond repair, giving her money would create incentives for more of these "restorations" to appear. You gotta admit it looks cool on a tshirt though: