During renovation work in a kitchen, an elderly French woman stumbled across a dusty old painting stored above the old-fashioned stove. The old picture was put down as rubbish and was destined for the wheely bin. We may never know when the penny dropped for her, but at some point, she decided to have it looked at before the irreversible action. A local expert was called in to have a look and they decided it was likely a genuine artwork from a thousand years ago. Once it was assessed properly, the expert proved that it was a missing masterpiece by the Italian painter Cimabue.
The mosaic maker and painter from Florence lived between 1240 and 1300. He is known as part of the Italo-Byzantine period. Credited with being the first major influence of the day to move away from the traditional Byzantine schema, Cimabue helped to bring in a more diverse and creative edge when depicting scenes from literature. A heavy influence of religious thought dominated the scope of what artists were doing at the time, and Cimabue was no different in that he is best known for his iconography.
Christ Mocked is one of the eight panels from a multi-panelled fresco of which five are still at large. The image shows Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion as members of the public amuse themselves on his story and his fate. Painted on a poplar wood panel with a gold-leaf background, the traditional and exquisite style is an ideal example of the era’s work. Discovering the poignant image and rescuing it from its fate in the heat of family cooking, it’s remarkable that the work is still in good condition.
When the lost Cimabue was discovered in the old French house, it was snapped into auction. Several interested parties showed up to try their luck at the painting, which was valued at around 400,000 Euros. One of the biggest names present was The Louvre, the world-famous French museum of art. However, when the bidding began it became clear that public funded resources were out of their league when it came to the missing masterpiece. The painting eventually sold for 24 million Euros.
The story didn’t end there, though, as the French government stepped in to attempt to secure the work. The Minister for Culture declared the work to be a national treasure and applied an embargo on its export. This meant that the new owner was unable to take their new painting home. The Louvre was given a timeline of 30 months to raise the money to outbid the auction winner by the state secretary at which their patrons came to life. With the reward of tax breaks, several people donated money to the museum in a hope to raise the funds. Eventually, they managed to raise enough to buy the painting from the owner, probably for a profit, and keep the painting in France.
Christ Mocked will be on display in The Louvre in 2025. Two days after the sale of the painting for the astonishing sum of money, which put the work in the same graph as Da Vinci and Raphael, the elderly French woman died. It’s sad to know that she’ll never enjoy her fortune, let’s hope that she had grandchildren who can enjoy it in her name.
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