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Lost Renaissance Masterpiece Worth $6 Million Found Hanging Above Woman’s Hotplate

The wall in an elderly French woman’s kitchen became the scene of a phenomenal discovery. It was a small panel painting that was hanging above a hotplate. As it turns out, it appears to be a long-forgotten work by Cimabue, an early Renaissance master and Florentine artist.

Philomène Wolf is an auctioneer who happened to find the religious scene. He expected that it would sell for about $6 million when it went on auction on October 27. He found the painting while clearing out a client’s home in Compiègne according to Elie Julien of Le Parisien.

“I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it,” Wolf tells Julien. “I had to make room in my schedule. … if I didn’t, then everything was due to go to the dump.”

The painting, entitled ‘Christ Mocked’ was spotted by Wolf on display between the living room and kitchen. She thought that it may have been a work of Italian primitivism right away but she ‘didn’t imagine it was a Cimabue.’

A Paris-based art historian, Eric Turquin then got involved. He was responsible for identifying a painting that was found in a French attic as being a long-lost Caravaggio. Benjamin Dodman of France 24 reported that Turquin and his colleagues concluded with ‘certitude’ that the new find was a Cimabue.

Researchers feel that the Old Master created the painting around 1280. Only two other sections of this work are known to survive, ‘The Flagellation of Christ‘, which was purchased in 1950 and ‘The Virgin and Child With Two Angels‘, which is now on display by the National Gallery in London.

Scott Reyburn of the Art Newspaper had the opportunity to speak with Turquin. Some of the evidence that had supported the genuineness of this painting were tracks left centuries ago by wood-gnawing larvae. All three of the pieces have similar wormhole patterns. “You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” Turquin says. “It’s the same poplar panel.”

Some of the other factors that proved the painting’s provenance include the gold background, frame fragments, and the style. One art specialist at Cabinet Turquin, Jerome Montcouquil, told Jack Guy and Saskya Vandoorne from CNN that the team could “follow the grain of the wood through the different scenes.” He adds, “We also used infrared light to be sure the painting was done by the same hand. You can even see the corrections [Cimabue] made.”

Jonathan Jones, who is an art critic tends to go about the issue with a little more caution. He is concerned that the painting is ‘being boldly called a Cimabue without wider discussion’, according to the Guardian. He emphasized that older paintings such as this one “is and always has been fraught with peril.” After all, it could be possible that the work was made by one of Cimabue’s followers or perhaps a painter from another region.

Cimabue was born around 1240 in Cenni di Pepo. He is perhaps best known as being Giotto’s teacher but he is also the first artist that was highlighted in Giorgio Vasari’s biography of Italian artists. Although he was the teacher, his pupil often takes the spotlight. One art historian at the Tulane University, Holly Flora says that he should “be appreciated for his own inventiveness and not just as a prelude to Giotto.”

Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian said that the French woman who owns the panel assumed that it was just a religious icon of no real importance. The painting was in the family long enough that she doesn’t know anything of its origins, including how it ended up in their possession.

A historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Joanna Cannon told the Telegraph that the rediscovered trio may have been a part of the left-wing of the altarpiece that was cut and sold late in the 18th or early in the 19th century. If that is true, she said that there are five other panels out there, somewhere.

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