What's hanging in your kitchen? Maybe a stylized picture of fruit or just pots and pans hung on the walls to save space. One elderly woman in Compiegne, France, had what she believed to be a Greek religious icon hung in her kitchen. The tiny 8-inch by 10-inch painting may have appeared to the woman to be a simple Biblical scene—certainly old, but not otherwise remarkable. However, in 2019, she discovered it was in fact a lost masterpiece by the elusive medieval Florentine painter Cimabue. Now, after legal efforts and a giant collective fundraiser, the $26 million painting will be housed in the Louvre collection.
The painting is entitled Christ Mocked and was completed in 1280. At the time, most artwork in Europe was religious in nature, and Cimabue was a master of the genre. The panel is actually part of a larger work, a diptych of eight Biblical tableaux detailing the passion and crucifixion of Christ. A panel, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, resides in London, while The Flagellation of Christ is in New York. The whereabouts of the remainder of the panels is unknown. While only about 15 works by the artist survive, he is known for his tutelage of Giotto.
After its discovery in the elderly woman's kitchen, the painting was put up for auction. It sold in October 2019 for $26.8 million. However, this appears to have been upsetting to France, which responded by dubbing the work a “national treasure” and forbidding its export. By pausing the action for 30 months, the Louvre was able to raise the massive funds to purchase the painting in what was a national effort to hold onto a treasure. “Cimabue lays the foundations for a new way of painting and addresses questions that will be central to the Renaissance: the illusionist representation of space, the body, light, and human feelings,” the French Ministry of Culture explained in a statement.
At the Louvre, the painting will now be in the best condition and at the fingertips of the best conservationists in the art world. It will also be in a collection alongside the words of Cimabue's contemporaries, student Giotto and the Italian Renaissance artists who followed him and built upon his artistic legacy. According to the Ministry, “This unpublished painting joins, at the Louvre Museum, the monumental Maestà, another masterpiece of Cimabue whose restoration is currently ongoing. Together, the two paintings will be the subject of an exhibition-event in spring 2025.”
A lost medieval treasure painted by Cimabue in 1280 will stay in France, after the Louvre raised money to purchase the masterpiece.
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