The Louvre Museum in Paris has added a “national treasure” to its collection after it was discovered during a house clearance four years ago.
The artwork, Christ Mocked by Florentine painter Cimabue, was found in an elderly woman’s house in the town of Compiegne, France, in 2019.
She thought the piece was a Greek religious icon and kept it in her kitchen.
Jerome Montcouquil of art specialists Cabinet Turquin said the owner did not know where the 25cm by 20cm painting had come from.
Dating to 1280, the painting was sold for almost €24.2 million ($26.8 million) at auction in October 2019, more than four times its estimated sale price.
However, the French government intervened to block its export, assigning the painting “national treasure” status.
The move meant the tiny, ultra-rare painting remained in the country for 30 months, during which time the government raised the funds to buy it.
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“These acquisitions are the result of an exceptional mobilisation of the Louvre Museum which allows to preserve in France works coveted by the greatest museums of the world and to make them accessible to all,” said the ministry in a statement, without providing any further details on how the money was raised.
The painting is “a crucial milestone in art history, marking the fascinating transition from icon to painting”, the ministry said.
Cimabue produced only 15 known works, which is why the painting “is a national treasure of major importance”.
The ministry said the artwork would join the much larger Cimabue painting Maesta in the Louvre collection and both works will be part of an exhibition event in spring 2025.
Artist Cenni di Pepo, born in Florence around the year 1240, used the pseudonym Cimabue.
He discovered and taught Giotto, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the pre-Renaissance era.
Part of a diptych of eight scenes, Christ Mocked is centred on the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.
London’s National Gallery acquired another scene from the work in 2000, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels.
The piece had been lost for centuries before a British aristocrat found it in his ancestral home in Suffolk, according to AFP.
The Frick Collection in New York has another, The Flagellation of Christ.