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Medieval Masterpiece ‘Christ Mocked’ by Cimabue   Source: Eric Turquin Experts en Tableaux

Kitchen Mantelpiece Masterpiece Sold For Almost $27 Million

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A long-lost medieval masterpiece by one of the fathers of Renaissance painting discovered this year has been sold at auction for an astounding sum, way exceeding the auctioneers estimate.

The work was found in France in and elderly lady’s home during a clear-out and it was nearly thrown out with the junk. Thankfully, an expert saw the painting, which dates from the 13 th century and is a long-lost part of a polyptych by Italian master Cimabue. The piece was put to auction, valued at $6 million. It seems that this estimate was rather on the conservative side, as the painting came under the hammer yesterday at Actéon House Auctioneers in Paris for a staggering $26.8 million.

"When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises," auctioneer Dominique Le Coent told Reuters news agency.

According to a BBC report, Acteon Auction House said the sum, paid by an anonymous buyer from northern France, was a new world record for a medieval painting sold at auction.

The masterpiece was for many years hanging in the home of an elderly lady in Compiègne, in the North of France . It had been ‘hanging between her open-plan kitchen and her living room’ for decades according to The Guardian. The priceless work of art was hanging over a hotplate where meals were cooked for many years. Remarkably it was not damaged. The lady liked the painting and she and her family thought that it was a religious icon , possibly from Russia or Greece.

Lost Italian masterpiece

Earlier this year, the owner of the house, who is in her 90s, decided it was time to downsize and move to a new home. Her family contacted local auctioneers to have some items in the house valued. Anything that was not deemed valuable was going to be dumped in the garbage. Philomène Wolf was sent to the lady’s home to appraise its contents. Straight away she was drawn to the medieval masterpiece and knew it was something special.

Wolf stated that, “You rarely see something of such quality. I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism”, reports The Guardian . However, she did not know the identity of the painter.  Wolf urged the lady and her family to have the painting evaluated by Parisian auctioneers. She thought the painting might be worth in the region of €300,000-€400,000 ($330-440,000).

The painting was recognised to be a medieval masterpiece by Philomène Wolf. (Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis)

The painting was recognised to be a medieval masterpiece by Philomène Wolf. ( Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis )

The painting was taken to Paris art expert, Eric Turquin. He used infrared light to examine it and what he discovered amazed him.  He is quoted as stating that there was “no disputing that the painting was done by the same hand” – the one that had painted works attributed to Cimabue, according to The Guardian .

Cimabue - ‘father of painting’

Cimabue was a 13 th-century Florentine painter and is considered a key artist in the development of Early Renaissance art . He was also known as Cenni di Pepo which means ‘bull-head’, as it appears that he was a very temperamental artist. He  was also famed for his mosaics.

Jerome Montcouquil an art expert, who works for Cabinet Turquina, called him a ‘father of painting’ according to CNN. Prior to him, Italian painting was influenced by Byzantine icons and it was highly stylized, static, and unrealistic. Cimabue developed a more naturalistic and realistic style, that was revolutionary. His apprentice was Giotto who is regarded as one of the most influential of all the Early Renaissance painters.

Left, Byzantine art - Christ Pantocrator of the Deesis mosaic (13th-century) in Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey). Right, Early Renaissance  The Flagellation of Christ, (part of the diptych by Cimabue circa 1280) (Public Domain) 

Left, Byzantine art - Christ Pantocrator of the Deesis mosaic (13th-century) in Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey). Right, Early Renaissance  The Flagellation of Christ, (part of the diptych by Cimabue circa 1280) ( Public Domain )

The painting is 20cm by 24cm (6 by 8 inches) and is painted onto a wooden panel. It features a scene from the Passion of Christ, showing the mockery of Jesus. The painting is entitled ‘Christ Mocked’.

Further tests were carried out and they established that the painting “part of a large diptych dating from 1280 when Cimabue painted eight scenes depicting Christ's passion and crucifixion” reports RTE.  The diptych was probably dismantled by a dealer in the 19 th century in order to fetch a better price by selling the paintings individually, according to the Eric Turquin experts . They were able to determine this image is part of the larger work because a single piece of wood was used for the diptych. The grain in the wood of the newly discovered painting was the same as the other surviving scenes, painted by the Florentine master. “The style of painting, the gold background, and traces of the old frame” confirmed that the painting was part of the series painted by Cimabue, reports CNN.

The painting is one of a number that formed a diptych. (Eric Turquin/ YouTube Screenshot)

The painting is one of a number that formed a diptych. (Eric Turquin/ YouTube Screenshot )

A rare medieval masterpiece

One of the surviving scenes from the diptych is the ‘The Virgin and Child with Two Angels’. CNN reports that another is ‘The Flagellation of Christ’  and can be found at the Frick Collection in New York. Less than a dozen paintings by Cimabue, who did not sign his work, have survived to the present day.

The record-breaking painting went under the hammer at Actéon Hôtel des Ventes de Senlis on 27 October, with the auctioneer stating: "There will never be another Cimabue at auction."

Top image: Medieval Masterpiece ‘Christ Mocked’ by Cimabue   Source: Eric Turquin Experts en Tableaux

By Ed Whelan

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