An elderly French woman in the northern town of Compiegne didn’t realize she had long had a Renaissance masterpiece hanging on her kitchen wall, but just thought it was a random religious icon.
After an expert came to the home to take a look at it, it was discovered to be by the hand of a 13th-century Florentine artist widely recognized as the father of Western painting, and is expected to sell at auction for between €4m and €6m, or 6.5 million dollars.
The painting is said to be by Florentine artist Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, who was so famous even in his own day as to get a mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Cimabue thought to lord it over painting’s field; and now the cry is Giotto’s and his name eclips’d.”
Experts have claimed of the piece, known as “Christ Mocked,” that there’s “no disputing” its origins, after infrared light tests as well as an examination of damage to the wood panel. Analysis of the wood revealed it to be the same as two other panels confirmed to be by Cimabue’s hand.
The Paris-based expert who made the discovery explained:
“You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” Turquin says, pointing out that the polyptych had been sawn down its center, exposing the centuries-old tracks made by timber-eating larvae. All three panels have similar patterns of worm holes.
“It’s the same poplar panel,” Turquin adds. “We have objective proof it’s by the artist.”
Cimabue’s works are so rare that it’s unknown whether one of the Florentine master’s pieces have ever been sold at auction in modern times.
“No autograph work by him has been sold at auction for as long as anyone in the art trade can remember,” one industry journal commented.
It’s believed probably part of a larger diptych the artist painted around 1280. “It was considered special by the family, but they thought it was an icon,” one expert said. Cimabue may have trained alongside big Renaissance figures Duccio and Giotto. This marks the second such recent discovery of a masterpiece “hiding in plain sight” in France.
In 2014 a ‘Lost Caravaggio’ was discovered under an old mattress in an attic near Toulouse when home owners went to fix a leak in the ceiling.
The 400-year old Caravaggio painting of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” was valued at a whopping $170 million before being bought by an American billionaire in a private deal just before going to auction.
The owner and expert appraiser of the newly discovered Compiegne piece say they are committed to taking it all the way to auction, expected on Oct. 21 at the Acteon auction house north of Paris.