A 13th-century painting by the early Italian master Cimabue which was found in the house on an unsuspecting elderly woman in France has sold at auction for a record €24.2 million. Professional selling-price estimations were shattered at the auction north of Paris, where the long lost masterpiece was fought over by collectors more fiercely than anticipated.
The small oak panel was found earlier this summer in the house of an elderly French woman, apparently hanging for years above her stove, its significance unknown. The piece is a missing panel in Cimabue’s c.1280 altarpiece diptych showing eight scenes from the Passion of Christ according Eric Turqin, the paris-based authenticator. Other notable panels from the altarpiece are The Virgin and Child with Two Angels in the National Gallery, London and The Flagellation of Christ, which is part of the Frick Collection in New York.
In response to the final selling price, Turqin explained that the newly discovered work fostered interest “from all the most prominent museums worldwide” and that even “contemporary art collectors, whom [Turqin] did not know, also showed a keen interest”.
A certain aura surrounds Cimabue and his works within the artworld as he is seen as the starting point of the Florentine Renaissance. Only ten authenticated works exist, the most famous being his Crucifixion in Santa Croce Church in Florence.
Many works contain the stylistic elements from Cimabue, largely those produced by his followers (the most notable of which was Giotto) and later copies. It would be the damage that gave away this paintings remarkable provenance. The wormholes on the back of the panel match those of the other two works, confirming the painting was from the same poplar panel. Similarly infrared reflectology was used to accurately match the size of the panel with the others.
The auction took place Actéon auction house in Senelis. The original estimates for the work were between €4 and €6 million, with the final price soaring 4 times higher than the latter. The final €24 million selling price broke the record for the most expensive pre-1500 master to be sold at auction.
The London-based Fabrizio Moretti was the winning bidder who was acting as proxy for two collectors. “It’s one of the most important Old Master discoveries in the past 15 years,” Moretti told the New York Times. “Cimabue is the beginning of everything,” the dealer said, adding: “When I held the picture in my hands, I almost cried.” artnet News reached out to Moretti for comment but did not hear back immediately.
“This record shows that today, a work of art can be sold anywhere in the world thanks especially to powerful platforms such as [the auction website] Interencheres,” the auctioneer and director of Actéon Group, Dominique Le Coënt, said in a statement.