In 2019, a nonagenarian woman in Compiègne, France, took the art world by storm when a routine house clearing revealed that what she thought was a Greek religious icon hanging in her kitchen was actually a medieval masterpiece.
Cimabue, The Mocking of Christ. Photo courtesy ACTEON Senlis.
The 10-by-8-inch painting on a wood panel proved to be the work of Cimabue (1240-1302), a Florentine artist whose work paved the way for the painters of the Italian Renaissance. The painting, called Christ Mocked, was part of a series called The Flagellation of Christ, which was probably made for an altarpiece. Only two other panels from the series have been identified. Analysis showed that this one was painted in the same technique on wood from the same plank of poplar, even with matching wormholes.
The painting went to auction in October 2019 at the Acteon auction house in Senlis, France. This was the first time a Cimabue painting was auctioned. Bidders couldn’t resist its rarity, historical significance, and the extraordinary story of its provenance, and quickly surpassed its presale estimate of $6 million, selling for $26.8 million to Chilean collectors Álvaro Saih Bendeck and Ana Guzmán Ahnfelt, who outbid a contemporary gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But the story doesn’t end there. The French Ministry of Culture, considering the work a national treasure that should remain in the country, would not allow the painting to be exported. The Louvre Museum in Paris was given 30 months to raise money to buy the painting.
Now that 30 months have passed, the Louvre has raised the money and reached an agreement with the buyers. The museum has acquired the painting and intends to display it beside the Maestà, another Cimabue painting. The exhibition is planned to open in 2025.
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