The Louvre Museum in Paris has added a “national treasure” to its collection four years after it was discovered during a house clearance.
“Christ Mocked” by the Florentine painter Cimabue was found in an elderly woman’s house in the town of Compiegne in 2019. She had kept the rare artwork – which she thought was a Greek religious icon – in her kitchen.
The unsuspecting owner of the piece did not know where the 10-inch by 8-inch painting had come from, said Jerome Montcouquil of art specialists Cabinet Turquin, which was asked to carry out tests on the painting following its discovery, at the time.
The painting, which dates from 1280, went on to fetch almost 24.2 million euros ($26.8 million) at auction in October 2019, more than four times the pre-sale estimate.
But the French government then stepped in to block its export, assigning the painting “national treasure” status.
The move kept the tiny, ultra-rare painting in the country for 30 months, during which time the government raised the funds to buy it for the nation.
Now, France’s minister of culture, Rima Abdul Malak, and the president and director of the Louvre Museum, Laurence des Cars, have announced that the painting forms part of the museum’s collection.
“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,” said the ministry in a statement, without providing any further details on how the money was raised.
The ministry went on to call the painting “a crucial milestone in art history, marking the fascinating transition from icon to painting.”
Only around 15 of Cimabue’s works are known, which is why the painting “is a national treasure of major importance,” adds the ministry.
It will join the much larger Cimabue painting “Maestà” in the Louvre collection, and both works will be part of an exhibition event in spring 2025, according to the ministry.
Cimabue is the pseudonym of artist Cenni di Pepo, born in Florence around the year 1240. He is known to have been the discoverer and master of Giotto, widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the pre-Renaissance era.
“Christ Mocked” is part of a diptych comprising eight scenes centered on the passion and crucifixion of Christ.
The National Gallery in London is home to another scene from the work, “The Virgin and Child with Two Angels,” which the gallery acquired in 2000. It had been lost for centuries, before a British aristocrat found it in his ancestral home in Suffolk, according to AFP.
Another, “The Flagellation of Christ,” can be found at the Frick Collection in New York.
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