A painting that hung for years over a hotplate in an elderly woman’s home north of Paris turned out to be by the pre-Renaissance Florentine master Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, and will be heading to auction with an estimated value of €4 million to €6 million ($4.4 to $6.6 million). Cimabue was a 13th century painter who, along with his student Giotto, is credited with using Byzantine influences to develop the early stages of what became Renaissance art as we know it. In the Divine Comedy, Dante spoke of how Giotto became the more famous of the two despite Cimabue paving the way, writing: “Cimabue thought to lord it over painting’s field; and now the cry is Giotto’s and his name eclips'd.”
The painting is being referred to as The Mocking of Christ or Christ Mocked and, according to the BBC, experts say there is “no disputing” the work’s provenance. Old Masters expert Eric Turquin, who will be selling the work along with French auction house Actéon, told The Art Newspaper that the work is believed to be part of a polyptych along with The Flagellation of Christ and The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, currently housed at the Frick and London’s National Gallery, respectively. How can we be sure that these panels once fit together? “You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” Turquin told TAN, referring to the matching, centuries-old marks made by wood-eating larvae who gnawed at the paintings before the panels were separated. “It’s the same poplar panel,” Turquin added.
This will be the first time a Cimabue has been auctioned off in modern history. The Madonna painting now housed at London’s National Gallery was intended to go to auction at Sotheby’s in 2000, but just before the sale the work was given to the National Gallery through the U.K.’s acceptance-in-lieu tax provision. Technical imaging showed that the only aspects of the newly attributed painting that have been touched up since Cimabue originally painted it are Christ’s eyes, a strand of his hair, and the stick that’s coming down on his head. The work will go to auction on October 27th.