A whole raft of questions surfaced in a small Spanish town after the tuber-faced image of Jesus Christ appeared on the walls of its church. Where did this Potato Jesus come from, Borja locals wondered, and why does his hair look like the boar-bristled pad of a brush? Why are his features sliding off of his face like that? Well, possibly because his makeover came courtesy of a self-appointed amateur conservator; that’s one explanation for the Ecce Homo’s strangely blurred and distorted new countenance. The other is familial resemblance. According to the Guardian, a strikingly similar interpretation of the Virgin Mary has surfaced hours away, in Valencia. Behold: a Potato Madonna. Radiant, no?
Art historians and conservators don’t think so; the Potato Madonna has prompted calls from Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators to impose government regulation on restoration, with bungled jobs having become curiously common in recent years. The Potato Madonna is just the latest example: A private collector enlisted a furniture restorer to touch up their copy of the Immaculate Conception, by baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. The Guardian reports that the restorer made two attempts at the task and charged €1,200 (or about $1,350) for their work. Neither of the resulting Marys look anything like one another, except for the haziness of their complexions and the close concentration of their features midface. Some might argue that taking two stabs at the job speaks to concerted, if admittedly unsuccessful, efforts to revive her original, cherubic state. For conservation experts, however, effort is not enough.
“We see this kind of thing time and time again and yet it keeps on happening,” Fernando Carrera, a professor at the Galician School for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage and a former Acre president, told the Guardian. “I don’t think this guy — or these people — should be referred to as restorers. Let’s be honest: they’re bodgers who botch things up. They destroy things.”
From the perspective of preserving cultural and historical artifacts, professional restoration credentials don’t seem like too much to ask. But consider: Potato Jesus can and does perform miracles, just like all the other Jesuses are said to do. Potato Jesus specializes in economic miracles, having enlivened his town’s stream of tourist cash, which has in turn allowed Borja to better care for its seniors. He has inspired an opera and given at least one octogenarian a new lease on her professional life. His appearance in Borja has arguably proved something of a blessing, so perhaps we should not judge the Potato Madonna on her appearance. Like mother like son, we hope.