An Elderly Woman Discovered She Had Been Storing a Rare Renaissance Painting in Her Kitchen—and It Could Fetch $6 Million at Auction Next Month

The 13th-century painting hung over a hot plate in the home of a 90-year-old woman.

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

For years, a painted panel depicting a scene from Christ’s passion and crucifixion hung in the kitchen of a nonagenarian woman in Compiègne, France. She thought it was an old knockoff. 

It turns out that it was a rare Renaissance treasure that is more than 700 years old. 

The painting, which she stored above her hot plate, is believed to be the handiwork of Cenni di Pepo, also known as Cimabue, a 13th-century Florentine painter famous for mentoring Giotto. It was discovered in June when the woman decided to sell her house and some of her belongings. Actéon, a small auction house from the nearby town of Senlis, was contacted for an appraisal.

“I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it,” Philomène Wolf, the auctioneer who discovered the painting, told Le Parisien

Wolf, who began her auction career just last year, realized the potential of the painting immediately. “You rarely see something of such quality,” she explained. “I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn’t imagine it was a Cimabue.”

Cimabue's <i>The Mocking of Christ</i>. Courtesy of Actéon and Eric Turquin.

Cimabue’s The Mocking of Christ. Courtesy of Actéon and Eric Turquin.

The auctioneer thought that the unsigned, tempera-on-panel painting could be worth as much as €300,000 to €400,000 ($330,688 to $440,918). After bringing it to Eric Turquin, an Old Master appraiser based in Paris, she learned it might be valued at 15 times that sum. (Turquin is no stranger to finding diamonds in the rough: He played a key role in the sale of a long-lost painting believed to be by Caravaggio, which was due to be sold at auction for as much as $171 million before billionaire Tom Hill purchased it in a private sale.)

The newly discovered Cimabue is now headed to auction at Actéon on October 27. Turquin, who is selling the painting in conjunction with the auction house, estimates that it will to go for between €4 million and €6 million ($4.4 million and $6.6 million). The other objects of value in the woman’s home  were sold for roughly €6,000 combined, while the rest of her property went to the dump.

Titled the Mocking of Christ, the tiny panel depicts one of the stages of the Passion of the Christ. Turquin believes it made up part of a polyptych by Cimabue, which also included the Flagellation of Christ and the Madonna and Child Enthroned Between Two Angels

Cimabue’s Flagellation of Christ hangs in the Frick Collection in New York, having been purchased by the museum in 1950. Madonna and Child Enthroned Between Two Angels has been in the collection of the National Gallery in London since 2000, when the museum snatched up the work for £7.2 million ($9 million) ahead of a planned auction. 

Turquin told the Art Newspaper he believes the poplar panel on which the Mocking of Christ is rendered is the same as those of the other two paintings. All three works show evidence of larvae infestation, he added, noting that the pattern of tunnels made by the wood-eating insects matches up across the series of works.

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