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Medieval masterpiece by Cimabue discovered in France

A lost masterpiece by the medieval artist Cimabue has been discovered near Paris, France. It will be going up for auction next month and is expected to sell for up to €6 million. 

The work is believed to date from the 1280s and depicts the Mocking of Jesus Christ, a Biblical scene often portrayed in medieval art. It is believed that it was originally part of a polyptych that depicted several scenes of Christ’s execution and resurrection. Various tests were carried out to determine if the work was done by Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo, who lived and worked in Florence, Italy, in the latter half of the thirteenth-century.

Although there are only about ten other works that are definitely attributed to Cimabue, the experts concluded that this was also one of his paintings. This includes damage to the paintings wooden backing, caused by larvae, which can also be seen in his other works.

Cimabue is recognized as one of the most important artists of the medieval world, who did many innovations in his work, making it distinct from the Byzantine-style of art that was prominent in his day. His works show figures much more life-like, and many see Cimabue as a forerunner to the Italian Renaissance.

Photo courtesy ACTÉON

This newly discovered painting depicts more than a dozen figures surrounding Jesus Christ. The work measures about 25.8 cm by 20.3 cm, and would have originally looked much brighter – centuries of dirt and dust have partially obscured the work, which overall is still in good condition.

Stephane Pinta, an art historian who evaluated the painting explains, “Cimabue is trying to bring to his painting a sense of movement, to express the way the Christ figure is being assaulted by all of these men who are crowding around him yet he is perfectly serene, he has his arms by his sides, he is the only one in the painting who wears an expression of complete surrender even as the others are pressing closer. There is ‘life’ in this painting, which is not to be found in icons of Byzantine art.”

The painting will go up for auction by the Senlis office of ACTÉON – the auction will take place on October 27th. This is the first time a work by Cimabue will be publicly sold, and the auction house estimates that it will sell for between €4 – €6 million.

News of its discovery has made international headlines, includes the fact that the work has owned by an elderly woman from the French town of Compiègne, who held it for decades without knowing that it was a medieval masterpiece.

“The painting, and this is quite incredible,” says Philimene Wolf of ACTÉON. “was hanging on the wall that served as a juncture between the kitchen to the living room. The current owners and the family believed that the painting was just a simple icon and not necessarily something to be attributed to an Italian primitive artist as important as Cimabue!”

Click here to read the official report – in French – about the painting.

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