It is a story proving to have more twists and turns than a James Bond thriller. An elderly French woman thought the religious painting hanging in her kitchen was just an everyday Greek religious icon. (See Kovels Komments, Oct. 23, 2019.) But the picture, painted on a 10-inch by 8-inch wooden panel and spotted by an auctioneer clearing the house, proved to be part of a work by the famous Florentine artist and early Renaissance master Cimabue (1240-1302). It auctioned in October for $26.8 million, far above the estimated value of about $6.6 million. The buyers were Chilean collectors from the United States who specialize in Italian masterworks. They outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the painting.


Here’s where the tale started twisting: The painting, titled “Christ Mocked,” was named a national treasure by France’s Minister of Culture and its export was blocked as the country works to raise the nearly $27 million to buy it. The ministry wants to keep it in the country, hanging in the Louvre near another painting by Cimabue, “Maestà.” The ministry said the country will have 30 months to raise the funds.


Sadly, the 90-year-old woman who put the artwork up for auction died shortly after the sale and her heirs will have to pay almost $10 million in inheritance tax.


While the sale has proven to be complicated, no doubt its discovery has spurred many to scramble through their parents’ and grandparents’ houses looking for another multi-million-dollar pot of gold. Who knows what’s still out there, hanging on kitchen walls?


Photo: Platiau/Reuter

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