After a long and circuitous journey, the Louvre has acquired Christ Mocked, a 13th-century work by the Florentine painter Cimabue. The 10- by 8-inch painting, now deemed a French “national treasure,” hung unnoticed for years above a hot plate in a 90-year-old French woman’s kitchen before experts identified it.
Dating to around 1280, the painting depicts Jesus before the crucifixion. According to CNN’s Jack Guy, the owner, who was in her 90s, didn’t remember where the piece had come from and assumed it was a Greek religious icon.
Four years ago, when she began clearing out her home ahead of a move, she intended to throw out the painting, unaware of its true value, per the Guardian’s Kim Willsher. Luckily, her family called in an expert to appraise items on the property. The unusual depiction of Christ caught the eye of the expert, who assumed it could be worth hundreds of thousands.
Cimabue, born in Florence around 1240, is the pseudonym of the artist Cenni di Pepo. Many art historians think he was the teacher of the celebrated artist Giotto. Only about 15 known works by Cimabue exist today, making Christ Mocked an incredibly rare find. The painting is part of a diptych, which included eight scenes depicting the crucifixion and passion of Christ. Only two other works from the diptych are currently accounted for.
Eric Turquin, a Paris-based art specialist, was called in to help authenticate the 13th-century painting. “We could have no doubts on the [Cimabue] attribution since this picture is clearly part of the same [altarpiece],” Turquin told Artnet’s Naomi Rea in 2019. According to Turquin, the painting had the same dimensions, style and hues as the two other surviving paintings that are part of the diptych.
When Christ Mocked went to auction in 2019, the London-based dealer Fabrizio Moretti acquired it with an offer of €24.2 million ($26.8 million)—more than four times the estimate.
“I bought it on behalf of two collectors,” Moretti told the New York Times’ Scott Reyburn following the auction. “It’s one of the most important old master discoveries in the last 15 years. Cimabue is the beginning of everything. He started modern art. When I held the picture in my hands, I almost cried.”
Soon after the sale, the French government declared Christ Mocked a “national treasure,” which kept it from leaving the country for 30 months. This decision was bad news for Moretti’s collectors. In that time, the Louvre was given the chance to raise the money to purchase the painting. Earlier this month, France’s minister of culture, Rima Abdul Malak, and the president and director of the Louvre, Laurence des Cars, announced their success.
“These acquisitions are the result of an exceptional mobilization of the Louvre museum, which allows to preserve in France works coveted by the greatest museums of the world and to make them accessible to all,” says France’s culture ministry in a statement.
The woman who originally owned the painting passed away just two days after the sale, leaving her three heirs to inherit her estate. The Louvre will display the newly acquired artwork along with Cimabue’s Maestà at an exhibition opening next spring.