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Rare Italian masterpiece found in French kitchen expected to sell for €6 million

An early Renaissance painting by the Italian master Cimabue goes under the hammer on Sunday, a few weeks after the rare artwork was found hanging in an unsuspecting elderly Frenchwoman's kitchen.

Rare Italian masterpiece found in French kitchen expected to sell for €6 million
'Christ Mocked', the painting newly attributed to Cimabue. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP

'Christ Mocked', by the 13th-century artist also known as Cenni di Pepo, has been valued at €4-6 million euros for what could be France's biggest art sale of the year.

READ ALSO: Old French lady discovers Italian Renaissance masterpiece in her kitchen

Art experts at Turquin in Paris used infrared reflectology to confirm that the tiny unsigned work, just 26 by 20 centimetres, is part of a larger diptych from 1280, when Cimabue painted eight scenes of the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

Only two other elements of the diptych are known to exist: 'The Flagellation of Christ' at the Frick in New York, and 'The Virgin and Child with Two Angels' at the National Gallery in London. 'The Virgin' was valued at £6.5 million when it was given to the museum in 2000 in lieu of inheritance taxes by a British aristocrat who found it while cleaning out his ancestral seat in Suffolk.


'The Virgin and Child with Two Angels' by Cimabue, now in the National Gallery in London.

The French painting's elderly owner in Compiegne, northeast of Paris, thought it was just an old religious icon when she sought an appraisal from auctioneers at Acteon, the house organising the sale in nearby Senlis.

“The style, the ornamentation of the gold background, the matchings of the backs of the panels and the overall conditions of the three confirms that they were part of the left side of the same diptych,” Acteon said.

It was found to be in excellent shape, though covered in grime from having been displayed right above a cooking hotplate.

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Historians say only about a dozen works on wood — all unsigned — are thought to have been made by Cimabue, more known for his mosaics, frescoes and altarpieces.

His more natural and nuanced depictions marked a turning point for Italian painters still influenced by highly stylised Byzantine art. Art historians consider him a trailblazer for the creative Renaissance that would flourish under greats like Giotto, one of Cimabue's pupils.

Since Friday, the painting has been on public display at the city hall in Senlis.

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CULTURE

French plan to rebuild William the Conqueror’s flagship for €20m

The last one was used to lead a successful French invasion of England - but a project to build a replica of William the Conqueror's flagship is purely for historical interest. They say.

French plan to rebuild William the Conqueror’s flagship for €20m

A historical association in the Norman coastal town of Honfleur has set itself the task of recreating the vessel William the Conqueror crossed the Channel in for his invasion of England in 1066.

The build is part of a €20 million project merging historical study and tourism that they hope will attract 200,000 visitors in the pretty coastal resort.

Although no contemporary plans of the ship exist, experts believe they know exactly what the ship, called La Mora, looked like. 

“The aim is to reconstruct as faithfully as possible this Viking-type warship, with its slender profile, which could sail up rivers and run aground on the shore. This 34m long oak ship will have to be able to carry 70 crew members, including 60 rowers. It will also have a square sail rig of 150 square metres,” naval architect Marc Ronet said.

“This is a technical challenge as complex as it is exciting. Our marine carpenters will have to relearn the techniques and work practices of the 11th century,” Olivier Pagezy, president of the La Mora association, added.

“And once the project is completed, the Mora, which should be ready to sail by 2027, will have to find new ways of working. We will have to find technical solutions very quickly to meet current safety regulations.” 

Pagezy is no stranger to naval challenges, having previously coordinated work on the Hermione, the replica of La Fayette’s ship.

As with the Hermione, at Rochefort in the Charente-Maritime, the intention is to make the construction work part of a living history exhibit – organisers expect 200,000 people a year will visit the project. A huge disused industrial site near the quays of Honfleur should be cleared by the end of the year to house the project.

The reconstruction of La Mora will be accompanied by an ambitious exhibition of the maritime history of Normandy.

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