Long-lost Renaissance Masterpiece Breaks Auction Record

Tuesday 29th October 2019 - Cara Bentham


Long-lost Renaissance Masterpiece Breaks Auction Record

A Renaissance painting found in a kitchen went under the hammer recently and smashed auction records!

Image: REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

An elderly woman has become a multimillionaire after selling what she thought was an insignificant painting at auction. The piece by Cimabue, who is widely considered as the forefather of the Italian Renaissance, spent years hanging on a wall above a hotplate in the owner’s home in Compiegne, northern France, before being discovered by an auctioneer during a house clearance who suggested it be evaluated by experts.

The owner, who has chosen to remain anonymous, had long thought the painting to be an old religious icon from Russia, of no significant value. Little did she know, she was in possession of what would become the most expensive medieval painting ever sold.

After examining the piece, Christ Mocked, and carrying out tests using infrared light, specialists at the Turquin gallery concluded, with certitude, that it bore the hallmarks of Cimabue, notably the painter’s techniques used for conveying distance and light as well as the likenesses in buildings and facial expressions.

Teacher of the Italian master Giotto, Cimabue broke away from the popular Byzantine style of the Middle ages, beginning to incorporate elements of perspective and movement characteristic of western painting in later years.

Such a rare find, the discovery of the piece has caused much excitement in the art world. Experts believe it likely that Christ Mocked, measuring just 24cm x 20cm, is part of a larger diptych painted by Cimabue around 1280. Two of the other panels can be found displayed at the National Gallery, London, and the Frick Collection, New York.

Dominique Le Coent, head of Acteon auction house, France, said, “when a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises. This is the only Cimabue that has ever come on the market”.

The piece was expected to fetch between 4-6 million euros (£3.4-£5.2 million) when it went up for auction on Sunday. When the hammer came down, however, the price was four times higher than the top estimate, a staggering 24 million euros (£20.7m)! According to the auctioneer, this represents a “world record for a primitive, or a pre-1500 work”. It was an anonymous buyer from Northern France who made the winning bid.

Christ Mocked has taken its place in the top ten most expensive old painting sales, alongside works by Rembrandt, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. And to think it could have ended up lost or discarded during the house move, were it not for the chance discovery by the auctioneer who had come to value the family’s furniture!