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.


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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Crime, poverty and the British: 12 things that may surprise you about the French Riviera town of Cannes

For 11 days every Spring, Cannes, on the Mediterranean coast of France, becomes the glamorous home of the film world’s glitterati - but there's a lot more to the town that starlets and red carpets.

Crime, poverty and the British: 12 things that may surprise you about the French Riviera town of Cannes

But while the great and the good of cinema only tread the temporarily laid – and regularly cleaned – red carpet in the port town for a couple of weeks in May, there’s more to Cannes than meets the camera lens.

Here are a few facts you may not know about the glitzy Alpes-Maritimes’ resort.

It’s old

Cannes has existed since the Iron Age. The Ligurian Oxybii tribe established a fishing village on what is now Cannes known as Aegitna early in the second century BCE. 

Then, nothing happened

Other than a bit of a squabble with the Romans around 154BCE, for centuries not a lot beyond daily life really happened in the sleepy fishing village.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Cannes became anything other than a quiet place by the sea and a stopping point en route to somewhere else. Then, British noble Lord Brougham discovered the town’s quaint charm – today, there’s even a statue of m’noble lud in the town.

Suddenly, everything changed

After Brougham ‘discovered’ Cannes, it became – like Nice, 60km or so up the coast – an It-town playground for well-to-do Brits in Europe. A casino, esplanade, and a series of smart hotels quickly popped up. Today, with its exclusive boutiques lining numerous streets it is sometimes referred to as the Sister City to Beverly Hills.

READ ALSO The mayor of Nice explains why his is the ‘most British’ town in France

Major events

As well as the Film Festival, Cannes hosts other major annual events such as the MIPIM, MIPTV, MIDEM, Cannes Lions, and the NRJ Music Awards.[14] There is an annual television festival in the last week in September.

Natural history

The mimosa plant that brightens up early Spring in and around Cannes is not native to the area. It was brought to the south of France in the 19th century by the British… from Australia.

Literary links

One of the tiny Lérins Islands off the coast of Cannes is Île Sainte-Marguerite, which was the prison for the real-life Man in the Iron Mask, a political prisoner reputed to be of royal blood whose story was later turned into a blockbuster tale by Alexandre Dumas. You can still visit fortress prison where he was interned for 11 years.

Population boom

The population of Cannes is about 75,000, according to French national statistics office Insee. Around the time of the film festival, however, it’s closer to 200,000.

Biarritz links

It may seem that the resort on the Atlantic coast would have little to do with the resort on the Mediterranean coast, but movie history was nearly very different. Cannes only got the film festival that shines a spotlight on the town every year because Biarritz – the organisers’ first choice location – could not afford to host it.

Crime scene

One of the biggest jewel heists in history took place in Cannes on July 28th, 2013, when one criminal ran off with €102 million in jewels from a temporary diamond exhibition at the famous Carlton Intercontinental Hotel. An active police investigation was officially shut down a decade later, with no clue as to the identity of the thief, or what had happened to the jewels.


Despite the riches on show during the film festival and in the exclusive boutiques lining one side of the beachfront La Croisette, Cannes is not as wealthy as its facade appears. The average net monthly salary in 2019 was €2,251, according to Journal du Net, below the French average of €2,524.

Property prices

Cannes does, however, regularly make the news for his vastly expensive property prices. The average price per square metre is €5,942 for an apartment or  €7,302 for a house – not quite as expensive as Paris but way above the French average of €3,367 per square metre.

Lower than average wages and higher than average property prices mean that many of the people who live and work in Cannes have been priced out of the area.  


A total of 18.4 percent of families in Cannes fall under the poverty rate, higher than the national average of 13.9 per cent. The Gini index – which measures wealth inequality – for Cannes is 40 per cent, compared to the national average of 30 percent.