Medieval masterpiece found in an old woman’s kitchen is now headed to the Louvre

  • A lost medieval treasure painted by Cimabue in 1280 will remain in France, after the Louvre raised money to buy the masterpiece

What’s hanging in your kitchen? Maybe a stylized image of fruit or just pots and pans hanging on the walls to save space. An elderly woman from Compiègne, France, had what she believed was a Greek religious icon hanging in her kitchen.

The tiny 8-inch by 10-inch painting may have seemed to the woman to be a simple biblical scene, certainly ancient, but not extraordinary. However, in 2019, he discovered that it was actually a lost masterpiece by the elusive medieval Florentine painter Cimabue.

Now, after legal efforts and a massive crowdfunding effort, the $26 million painting will be housed in the Louvre’s collection.

The painting is titled Christ Mocked and was completed in 1280. At that time, most works of art in Europe were religious in nature, and Cimabue was a master of the genre. The panel is actually part of a larger work, a diptych of eight biblical paintings detailing the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

One panel, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, resides in London, while The Flagellation of Christ is in New York. The whereabouts of the rest of the panels are unknown. Although only about 15 works by the artist survive, he is known for his tutelage of Giotto.

After its discovery in the old woman’s kitchen, the painting was auctioned. It sold in October 2019 for $26.8 million. However, this seems to have upset France, which responded by calling the work a “national treasure” and banning its export.

By pausing action for 30 months, the Louvre was able to raise massive funds to purchase the painting in what was a national effort to preserve a treasure. “Cimabue lays the foundations for a new way of painting and addresses issues that will be central to the Renaissance: the illusionistic representation of space, the body, light and human feelings,” explained the French Ministry of Culture in a statement.

At the Louvre, the painting will now be in top condition and within reach of the art world’s best conservationists. It will also form part of a collection alongside the words of Cimabue’s contemporaries, the student Giotto, and the Italian Renaissance artists who followed him and built on his artistic legacy.

According to the Ministry, “this unpublished painting joins, in the Louvre Museum, the monumental Maestà, another masterpiece by Cimabue whose restoration is currently underway. Together, the two paintings will be the subject of an exhibition-event in the spring of 2025.