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French family keepsake up for auction at €24m

Small artwork recognised as lost 13th-century masterpiece

30 October 2019

A routine auctioneer’s house clearance turned up a surprise treasure – a painting which has sold at auction for €24million (sale fees included).

The painting by Cimabue, a 13th century painter from Florence, shows a biblical scene of Christ being mocked.

It is small, at just 28cm by 20cm, with paint made of egg yolk and gold leaf, and painted on poplar.

It was spotted hanging on the wall between the elderly resident’s kitchen and dining area.

Auctioneer Philomène Wolf, 32, who works in Compiègne (Oise) said: “The house owner is in her nineties and contacted me to do a house clearance as she is moving into assisted accommodation. She did not mention the painting. It was a straight-forward job and after going through the house, just about the last thing I saw was the painting, and I immediately thought it was old, and maybe something very special.”

She took it to be valued and was told it was almost certainly a Cimabue and worth millions.

“My client was delighted,” said Ms Wolf. “She told me she had inherited the painting from her mother, who, in turn, had inherited it from her mother.

“None of them knew the history of the painting, and my client just kept it as a keepsake of her mother and family.”

Cimabue was one of the first painters to move away from the strict icons of the medieval age and to start painting figures and faces showing emotions and expressions.

It is thought the painting was part of an eight-panel altarpiece, probably painted in 1280.There are two known panels from the work in public collections: one representing the flogging of Christ in the Frick Collection in New York, and another of the Virgin and child with two angels in the National Gallery in London.

Actéon auction house in Senlis, also in Oise, which sold the painting did not reveal the identity of the buyer but said a foreign museum had been among the bidders.

Ms Wolf said she had set up on her own as a commissaire-priseur (auctioneer) only last year. “It is a wonderful thing to have happened so early in my career,” she told Connexion.

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