A 10-inch painting that hung in a French woman’s kitchen for so long she had no idea how it came to be in her family’s possession was found to be the work of Italian artist Cimabue earlier this year. It was expected to sell at auction for upwards of $9 million, but this weekend it ended up selling for $39 million instead.
The painting was discovered during a valuation of the contents of a house owned by a Frenchwoman living north of Paris by auctioneer Philomène Wolf who immediately suspected it was more than just your average religious icon. Wolf consulted Eric Turquin, an art historian based in Paris, who, along with other researchers and colleagues, concluded the piece, called “The Mocking of Christ,” was painted by the Italian artist Cimabue sometime around the year 1280.
The historians used traditional techniques like infrared photography to analyse brush strokes and confirm they all came from the same hand, as well as comparing the piece’s gold ornamentation to other known works by Cimabue, who’s considered one of the father’s of the Italian renaissance art movement.
The painting is also believed to be part of a larger multi-panel piece, of which only two other panels exist: “Flagellation of Christ,” in the Frick Collection in New York, and “Madonna and Child Enthroned Between Two Angels,” at the National Gallery in London. As a result, the historians were able to compare the patterns of holes made by worms in the painting’s poplar wood frame to the other two panels and found that many of the holes lined up, which helped further confirm the piece’s authenticity.
To date, none of Cimabue’s confirmed works had ever gone on sale to the public, so bidding for the piece was expected to be fierce, and many estimated it would sell for as much as $9 million given only a dozen confirmed pieces by the artist are known to exist. However, at an Actéon auction this past weekend, a total of eight bidders ended up driving the price of the painting to a staggering $39 million when it finally sold to London-based art dealer Fabrizio Moretti on behalf of two collectors who are presumably going to find themselves in a fun custody battle over the piece.