Louvre Acquires Rare $26M Cimabue Painting Found In A Kitchen

The French museum acquired Florentine painter Cimabue’s rare, 13th-century “Christ Mocked,” which hung in the house of a 90-year-old French woman for years. 

In 2019, a 90-year-old French woman was clearing her house before moving out. Among the abode’s many items was a painting of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion, which hung on the wall of her kitchen for years. The Guardian reports that though the lady intended to throw the artwork away, her family insisted on having an expert appraise it. As it turned out, the piece was no ordinary Greek religious icon, like the elderly woman thought. The work was “Christ Mocked,” an incredibly rare, 13th-century piece from the Florentine painter, Cenni di Pepo—who went under the pseudonym “Cimabue.” 

Cimabue’s “Christ Mocked”
Cimabue’s “Christ Mocked”/Photo from the Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis Facebook 

Like many antiquated pieces that’ve been lost to time, the 90-year-old had no idea where the piece came from. It simply found its way to her home and stayed there for quite some time; a humble location for a piece that the French government has labeled as a “national treasure,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.  

When the work went up for auction in October of the same year, France was aiming to purchase it for the nation. However, the work sold for four times the initial estimate at $26.8 million (€24.2 million) to London-based dealer, Fabrizio Moretti

In an attempt to keep the painting within France until it found the necessary funds to purchase the piece, the French government implemented a temporary, 30-month export band so the Louvre museum would have enough time to raise money. 

READ ALSO: Priceless Sculpture: An Edmé Bouchardon Bust Initially Purchased For $6 May Sell For $3 Million

Cimabue’s Value

The reason behind the French government’s strong desire to keep the painting for public appreciation mainly stems from its rarity. The work is only one of 15 Cimabue pieces that are known to exist today, as per CNN

A close-up of the rare, 13th-century piece
A close-up of the rare, 13th-century piece/Photo from the Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis Facebook

Experts believe that Cimabue completed “Christ Mocked” in 1280. The artist painted the 25 x 20 centimeter piece on a poplar wood panel with a gold-leaf background. It’s one of eight scenes from a diptych, five of which remain missing at present. CNN reports that the other two, “The Virgin and Child with Two Angels” and “The Flagellation of Christ,” are in London’s National Gallery and New York’s Frick Collection, respectively. 

A portrait of Cimabue
A portrait of Cimabue/Photo by Nicolas de Larmessin via Wikiart

The Florentine painter didn’t normally sign his works, but experts deduced that “Christ Mocked” was an authentic piece, as it shares the same dimensions, hues, and style as the two other confirmed works from the diptych. 

Cimabue, while not as famous as his pupil Giotto, is still an artist worthy of respect. “Cimabue is the beginning of everything. He started modern art. When I held the picture in my hands, I almost cried,” shared Moretti with The New York Times in 2019. 

What’s more, the hefty price it fetched at auction makes it the most expensive medieval painting of its kind, as per ARTnews. The publication adds that it also has the eighth-highest sale for any work done by the Old Masters, including Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. 

France’s Treasure

Louvre and the French government took four years to gather enough funds to acquire the coveted Cimabue piece. France’s culture ministry and the Louvre haven’t revealed the price they paid for the work, or how they managed to raise the money for it. 

The ministry only had this to say in an official statement, as per CNN: “These acquisitions are the result of an exceptional mobilization of the Louvre Museum which allows to preserve in France works coveted by the greatest museums of the world and to make them accessible to all.”

“Maestà” by Cimabue (tempera on wood)
“Maestà” by Cimabue (tempera on wood)/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another larger painting from the artist, “Maestà,” is also in the Louvre and currently undergoing restoration. The French Museum intends to put it up for display alongside their newly-acquired “Christ Mocked” in a 2025 exhibition, ARTnews reports. 

Banner photo from the Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis Facebook.

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