A restoration project of 300-year-old artwork in a Chinese temple has caused outrage with critics who say the new frescoes erase history and more closely resemble a cartoon.
NBC News reports that a 23-year-old blogger named Tuo Liu originally noticed the stark changes after bringing a group of friends to Chaoyang’s Yunjie Temple to look at the original paintings.
But when the group arrived, Tuo and his friends found the new paintings, which had been added directly on top of the original frescoes.
“The last trace of the history inside [the temple] was erased,” Tuo wrote on his blog. "Cartoons drawn by my daughter are better than this,” one commenter wrote on Tuo's blog.
“Restoration of frescoes is a very complicated process,” Xu Zhao, a professor in the fresco department of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, told NBC News. “The principle is ‘repair as was.' It is definitely taboo to draw directly on the original paintings.”
Since the restoration project first came under criticism, the official in charge of temple affairs and the head of the city’s cultural heritage monitoring team have been fired, according to NBC.
The mismanaged restoration project recalls a 2012 incident in which an 80-year-old woman took it upon herself to restore a 20th century painting of Jesus Christ inside a Spanish church. Amazingly, her own botched painting drew so much attention that Cecilia Gimenez obtained legal representation ― not to defend herself ― but to demand a share of the profits from local tourism.
Li Haifeng, the Chaoyang government deputy secretary general told Global Times that the Chinese government had not formally approved of the restoration project. According to Li, the project was carried out by a local company which he said was not qualified to carry out the restoration.
Worst of all, critics point out that because the restoration was done directly on top of the original painting, there is almost certainly no way to recover the lost artwork.
“If it is destroyed in this way, no one can restore it,” Xu said.
Viewed side by side, the restored images bear very little resemblance to the original images, which are said to date back to 1734.