A Lost Cimabue Masterpiece Found Hanging in an Elderly French Woman’s Kitchen Sold for a Stunning $26.8 Million

The Medieval painting was spotted above the stove where it had been hanging for years.

Cimabue's The Mocking of Christ. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images.

A medieval painting by the early Italian master Cimabue that hung unnoticed for years in a house in France has sold at auction for a record €24.2 million ($26.8 million) with fees. A bidding war at the auction house north of Paris saw the work soar past its estimate as collectors battled to secure the long-lost painting by the late 13th-century artist.

The small panel work of The Mocking of Christ was found this summer hanging above a hotpot by the kitchen of a house belonging to an elderly French woman. She gave the auction house a week to clear her home before its sale, and the proceeds have made her a multimillionaire. The painting turned out to be the missing counterpart to an altarpiece depicting eight scenes from the Passion of Christ, according to Eric Turquin, the Paris-based expert who authenticated the work. The altarpiece also includes Cimabue’s Flagellation of Christ, which is now in the Frick Collection in New York, and The Virgin and Child With Two Angels in London’s National Gallery.

Turquin says that the painting generated interest “from all the most prominent museums worldwide.” He adds that “contemporary art collectors, whom we did not know, also showed a keen interest.” One of these was a prominent Brussels contemporary art dealer.

There are only around ten fully accepted Cimabue works on panel known to have survived down the centuries, the best known of which is the Crucifixion in Santa Croce church in Florence. That painting was severely damaged during the terrible flood of 1966, however.

We could have no doubts on the [Cimabue] attribution since this picture is clearly part of the same [altarpiece],” Turquin tells artnet News, explaining how the painting has the same dimensions, style, and colors, as the other two works in New York and London. He says that the wormholes in the wood also fit with those on the back of the National Gallery painting, which both came from the same plank of poplar. 

Cimabue, The Mocking of Christ. Photo courtesy ACTEON Senlis.

Cimabue, The Mocking of Christ. Photo courtesy Acteon Senlis.

The Cimabue sold at the Actéon antiques auction in Senlis, north of Paris, on Sunday, October 27. The bidding was intense with eight contenders duking it out as the work soared past its €4 million to €6 million estimate. The sale price makes it the most expensive pre-1500 Old Master to be sold at auction. It is unknown how the work entered the family’s possession.

The winning bidder was the London-based dealer Fabrizio Moretti, who was acting as a proxy for a couple of collectors. “It’s one of the most important Old Master discoveries in the past 15 years,” Moretti told the New York Times. “Cimabue is the beginning of everything,” the dealer said, adding: “When I held the picture in my hands, I almost cried.” artnet News reached out to Moretti for comment but did not hear back immediately.

The back of Cimabue’s The Mocking of Christ. Photo courtesy Acteon Senlis.

“This record shows that today, a work of art can be sold anywhere in the world thanks especially to powerful platforms such as [the auction website] Interencheres,” the auctioneer and director of Actéon Group, Dominique Le Coënt, said in a statement.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics