Louvre Acquires Rare Cimabue Painting Saved from Trash, Three Years After Losing It at Auction 

A Cimabue painting discovered above a kitchen stove in France and later sold for €24 million ($26 million today) at auction has been acquired by the Louvre, in a delayed win for the Paris museum after losing it to a rival bidder three years earlier.

As reported by the Guardian, the painting, called Christ Mocked and painted sometime around 1280 by the Florentine artist, is now one of the oldest paintings in the Louvre. Experts believe it to be one of eight missing panels from a legendary multipart work, five portions of which remain missing. According to the museum, Christ Mocked will be the centerpiece of an exhibition in 2025.

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The work’s initial owner, an elderly French woman, had set the painting aside for the trash, but by lucky whim first called in an expert for an appraisal of her property. The expert estimated the painting to be valued up to €400,000 and sent it to an art specialist in Paris for a second examination, who determined it an authentic Cimabue.

The Louvre attempted to acquire the painting in 2019 when it came up for sale at the Actéon auction house in Senlis, outside Paris. The museum lost the bidding battle when the lot went for a total €24 million (with fees), making it the most expensive medieval-era painting sold at auction and the eighth-highest sale for any work by an Old Master, ranking Cimabue alongside the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.

“When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises,” Dominique Le Coent, head of Actéon, said in a statement at the time. “This is the only Cimabue that has ever come on the market.”

In a bid to keep the painting in France, the country’s culture ministry declared it a national treasure and placed it under a temporary export ban, allowing the Louvre 30 months to raise the funds needed to acquire it. 

The painting measures a bit over 10 inches, and depicts the flagellation of Christ before his crucifixion. Cimabue painted the scene on a gold-leaf background pasted on a poplar wood panel. The two other located panels in the series are owned by the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.

The Louvre did not disclose how much money it raised for the acquisition, or by what means the funds were obtained, only that it required an “exceptional mobilization” of its patrons who received tax exemptions.

Its original owner, who was in her 90s, died two days after the auction. 

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