A rare masterpiece by Italian painter Cimabue was sold at auction for $26.8 million this year after it was discovered in an elderly woman’s kitchen — but France is now blocking the buyer’s attempts to export the painting.
The painting, “Christ Mocked,” created by Cimabue in the 13th century, depicts the mocking of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion and is one of a series of three panels by the artist that shows the Passion of Christ. “Cimabue” is the pseudonym of Italian artist Cenni di Pepo.
According to the Guardian, the piece was discovered above a hotplate in the kitchen of a woman in her 90s living in Northern France. The painting was spotted by an appraiser who was invited to the home to see if any of her possessions were worth selling ahead of a move.
“I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it,” appraiser Philomène Wolf told Le Parisien of the discovery, the Guardian reported. “I had to make room in my schedule … if I didn’t, then everything was due to go to the dump.”
Wolf said she noticed the tiny 10-inch painting right away.
“You rarely see something of such quality,” she recalled. “I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn’t imagine it was a Cimabue.”
The painting was then sent to experts at Cabinet Turquin in Paris, who used infrared reflectography to confirm the artwork was part of a larger piece from 1280. The woman and her family thought the painting was simply an old icon passed down from Russia and thought it held little value.
“It didn’t take long for us to see that it was an artwork by Italian painter Cimabue,” Jerome Montcouquil of Cabinet Turquin told CNN. “He’s a father of painting so we know his work very well.”
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“There are only 11 of his paintings in the world — they are rare,” he added.
But after the auction, the French Advisory Committee on National Treasures decided to block the export of the valuable painting, which now means it will remain in the country for another 30 months.
As CNN notes, this gives the French government time to raise funds to purchase the painting for the nation.
According to NPR, the government hopes to name the painting a “national treasure” that should stay in the country in order to “enrich our national collections.”
They hope to display it in the Louvre museum next to other paintings by Cimabue in their collection.