A Renaissance masterpiece found hanging in an elderly French woman’s kitchen sold for a record price of €24 million (£20.7m) at an auction on Sunday, four times more than expected.
“Christ Mocked”, an unsigned painting on a wooden panel attributed to the 13th century Florentine artist Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo, depicts the Passion of Jesus, the final stages of his life.
It was in excellent condition when it was discovered – except that it was covered in grime because it had been hanging on a wall just above a hotplate for cooking food in the woman’s home in Compiègne, about 50 miles north of Paris.
It is unclear how she came by it. Now in an old people’s home under legal guardianship, she said she thought it was just an old religious icon. It was valued at about £5 million after a judge called in an auctioneer to empty her house in June after she was moved to the home.
Dominique Le Coënt-de-Beaulieu of the Actéon auction house said the price paid was “a world record” for a painting dating from before 1500. It is thought to have been painted around 1280.
The experts were wide of the mark, he said, because it was the first time a Cimabue had ever been auctioned.
“There was no reference previously on how much it could fetch," he explained.
“It’s a painting that is unique, splendid and monumental. Cimabue was the father of the Renaissance but this sale goes beyond all our dreams.”
Experts believe that the work, which measures about 10 inches by 8 inches, was part of a larger diptych, a painting on hinged wooden panels.
Another scene from the work, "The Virgin and Child with Two Angels", is on display at the National Gallery in London. Also lost for centuries, it was found in 2000 in Benacre Hall, Suffolk, following the death of the baronet, Sir John Gooch.
A third scene, "The Flagellation of Christ", is at the Frick Collection in New York.
Cimabue, who taught the Italian Renaissance master Giotto, is considered the forefather of that artistic epoch.