Cimabue picture

La Dérision du Christ by by Italian artist Cenni di Pepo (known as Cimabue) (c.1240-1302). © Musée du Louvre, Hervé Lewandowski.

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The rare painting La Dérision du Christ, The Derision of Christ (or The mocking of Christ) by Italian artist Cenni di Pepo (known as Cimabue) (c.1240-1302) was spotted by a French auctioneer in a kitchen hanging above a hotplate and identified as by the Florentine early Renaissance master Cimabue. 

It was sold in October 2019 for €19.5m plus premium at auction house Actéon in France. Surpassing an €4m-6m estimate, the panel took €24.18m (£20.9m) when including buyer’s premium.

The price set a record for a medieval panel and was the eighth most expensive Old Master ever sold and the first work attributed to the artist to be auctioned.

It was sold to London dealership Moretti who was reportedly bidding on behalf of the US-based Chilean collectors Alvaro Saieh and Ana Guzmán who together formed the Alana Collection of Italian Renaissance paintings.

Export block

At the auction the French cultural ministry had a representative with a budget of around €15m to ‘pre-empt’ the work (a practice which gives a museum or institution the right to purchase items at the price established by the bidding).

However in the end the work was blocked from export in 2020 when an export licence was applied for.

The Louvre Museum this month announced its acquisition.

In a statement it said the panel “joins the collections of the Department of Paintings, of which it becomes the oldest work and an essential milestone for understanding the development of Western painting”.

Laurence des Cars, president and director of the museum, said: “Cimabue's La Dérision du Christ constitutes a crucial milestone in the history of art, marking the fascinating transition from icon to painting. It will soon be presented alongside the Maestà, another masterpiece by Cimabue belonging to the Louvre collections and whose restoration is currently continuing. Thus brought together, the two paintings will be the subject of an exhibition-event in spring 2025.”

National Treasure

Alongside this acquisition the Louvre also announced it had acquired a drawing by Victor Hugo, Marine Terrace, which had also been declared a national treasure.

Marine Terrace

Victor Hugo's Marine Terrace. © Musée du Louvre.

These two acquisitions were made possible thanks to the support of patrons, including the Society of Friends of the Louvre, chaired by Louis-Antoine Prat, (via a bequest of Guy Maherault) as well as Harry and Linda Fath.

Separately, The Louvre Museum is also hoping to raise funds to buy Le panier de fraises des bois (Basket of Wild Strawberries) by Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). The painting was sold at auction at Artcurial in Paris on March 23, 2022, when it took a hammer price of €20.5m (£17.425m) plus 25/20/12% buyer’s premium (as reported in ATG No 2536).

It has been declared a National Treasure in France and the museum has already raised nearly two-thirds of the price needed to buy it thanks to donations from LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, the Society of Friends of the Louvre and other major donors.

It has now launched a wider appeal for donations to raise the remaining $1.3m needed. The appeal is its 14th annual campaign as part of its ‘All patrons!’ initiative.