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Painting Now Part of Epic Art World Power Struggle

Once owned by a French housewife, the 13th-century Italian painting that recently sold for almost $27 mil to two American collectors, is now the subject of an epic art world power struggle.

UPDATE! An oil on wood 10 x 8” painting that once hung on a wall between the kitchen and living room in an elderly woman’s home in Northern France, was identified during the summer of 2019 as a piece by the Florentine artist Cimabue, painted around 1280. Sold at auction to two American collectors for almost $27 million in October 2019--a world record for a pre-1500s work--the French government is now blocking its export, to give the country time to raise the money needed to purchase the painting.

The French Ministry of Culture says that the Italian masterpiece is a French national treasure and, as such, should remain in France.

If the French government can raise the funds (they have 30 months in which to do so), Minister of Culture Franck Riester says that the piece will be housed at the Louvre, along with the Maestà, another painting by Cimabue.

Considered to be the forefather of the Renaissance art movement and the father of Western painting, Cimabue (also known as Cenni di Pepo) was the first to use natural movement and perspective in his work. He was also the teacher of the famous painter Giotto.

The painting, titled The Mocking of Christ, shows Jesus being mocked by a crowd of onlookers.

The panel was discovered after the family of the homeowner, now in her 90s, hired an auctioneer to value some of her furniture, prior to selling her home. During the walk through, one of the auctioneers spotted the painting hanging over a hotplate and thought it was most likely a primitive Italian piece, worth upwards of a few thousand dollars. Considering its potential value, he suggested that the family get the panel appraised. The woman had thought that the painting was a Russian or Greek religious icon of little monetary value, and had no idea when it was purchased or by whom, other than it had hung in her kitchen for decades.

After expert analysis, it was confirmed that the panel was painted by Cimabue, and was a part of a larger group of eight panels that originally formed a diptych, each depicting a scene from Christ’s passion and crucifixion. The diptych was broken up and each sold off individually, most likely by an art dealer in the 1800s. Until now, only two of the original panels had been recovered. One was discovered when a British nobleman was cleaning out his country house in Suffolk, England. The family, who had no idea of its significance or value until it was appraised by an art dealer, sold it to the National Gallery in London for $8.8 million in 2000. The other panel is housed at the Frick Collection in NYC.

The first work by Cimabue ever to be placed up for public auction, it was originally expected to sell for around $5 million. But at the end of October 2019, the winning bidders, two American private collectors, paid a record-breaking $26.6 million.


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