A medieval painting that was discovered in France in 2019 is now going to The Louvre. ‘The Derision of Christ’ by Cimabue was one of the most expensive paintings ever sold when it was auctioned for €24 million.
Cimabue (c.1240 – 1302) was a Florentine artist and considered one of the forerunners of the Renaissance. About 15 of his works survive to the present day and display that he was influenced by Byzantine art.
Experts at The Louvre believe that the ‘The Derision of Christ’ was once part of a large diptych created around 1280 and that two other parts of that work also exist: the Flagellation of Christ (New York, Frick Collection) and Virgin and Child with Two Angels (London, National Gallery). The painting in London arrived in England around 1830, which suggests that the diptych was split up at that time.
‘The Derision of Christ’ depicts a Biblical scene where Jesus Christ is mocked and insulted while he is being taken to the site of his crucifixion. Measuring 25.8cm by 20.3cm, the work would originally have been much brighter. Gold, lapis lazuli and red lacquers were used in its creation.
Stephane Pinta, an art historian who evaluated the painting before its auction, explained:
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.
While the painting was sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for €24 million (far higher than its expected price of between €4–6 million), the French government paused the completion of the sale to allow The Louvre to raise the money to purchase the work themselves. This process has now been completed, as has another purchase by The Louvre: a drawing by Victor Hugo entitled ‘Marine Terrace’, done in 1855.
‘The Derision of Christ’ will go on display at The Louvre in 2025 as part of a special exhibition on Cimabue. Laurence des Cars, Director of the Louvre, says “Being able to announce the acquisition of these two exceptional works is a great joy for me. Firstly because ‘The Derision of Christ’ by Cimabue, constitutes a crucial milestone in the history of art, marking the fascinating transition from icon to painting. It will soon be presented alongside the ‘Maestà’, another masterpiece by Cimabue belonging to the Louvre collections and whose restoration is currently continuing. Together, the two paintings will be the subject of an event exhibition in spring 2025.”