Auction  October 31, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Cimabue Masterpiece Discovered in Kitchen Sells for Millions

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Cimabue, Christ Mocked (detail), c.1280.

An elderly Frenchwoman had the surprise of her life when she recently found out that a humble religious icon hanging in her kitchen was worth millions of dollars. The petite painting of Christ, which she assumed was a cheap reproduction, hung above the hotplate in her home for years. Measuring only eight by ten inches, an auctioneer looking at her furniture spotted the painting and suggested the owner have the work assessed.

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Cimabue, Christ Mocked, c.1280.

Analysis of the painting, titled Christ Mocked, revealed it to be the work of Cimabue, known as Cenni di Pepo, a master of medieval painting from Florence. Works by Cimabue are rare—only a dozen have been attributed to him—and hang in great museums around the world.

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Cimabue, The Flagellation of Christ, c.1280.

Cimabue paintings embody an important moment in art history. Christ Mocked shows a break from the flatness of the Byzantine style. Cimabue added depth and perspective to his compositions, as well as greater detail and thus expressiveness to his figures, marking the beginning of the realism of the Renaissance.

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Cimabue, The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, c.1280.

Scholars believe the piece is part of a polyptych (a painting that consists of three or more panels) depicting the passion of Christ. Other works in the same series, created in 1280, include The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, held by the National Gallery in London, and The Flagellation of Christ, held by the Frick Collection. Painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a poplar panel, the painting likely would have originally had a red border, like the other works in the series.

Christ Mocked is believed to be the first painting my Cimabue ever offered at auction, and initial estimates priced the work at $7 million. The sale earlier this week blew those estimates out of the water, selling to an anonymous French buyer for $26.6 million, setting a new world record for a medieval work at auction.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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