An elderly woman unaware of the importance of a long-lost painting in her kitchen has become a multi-millionaire after the artwork was sold at auction for €24m (£20.7m).
Christ Mocked, a masterpiece measuring just 20cm by 26cm, went for more than four times the pre-sale estimate of €4-6m in France.
The painting by 13th-century Italian artist Cimabue was discovered earlier this year and experts said the price was a “world record for a primitive, or a pre-1500 work”.
Acteon auction house in Senlis, north of Paris, said the French woman, aged in her 90s, had the piece in her home and will now receive “the majority” of the sale money.
The artwork had been hanging for decades directly above a cooking hotplate and she had not known of its significance.
An auctioneer spotted the painting in June while valuing furniture ahead of the woman’s house move in Compiegne in northern France and suggested she should get it assessed by experts.
The woman had thought the piece was simply an old religious work.
The painting, which was sold for €19.5m before fees, was bought by an anonymous buyer. A foreign museum had been among the bidders.
Experts said it was probably part of a larger display of eight small panels of the passion and crucifixion of Christ that Cimabue painted around 1280.
Two of the panels are on display at the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.
Dominique Le Coent, of Acteon, said it was the first time a Cimabue work had ever gone under the hammer.
He explained: “There’s never been a Cimabue painting on sale so there was no reference previously on how much it could make.”
He added: “When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises.”
Born in Florence, Cimabue, who taught Italian master Giotto, is widely considered the forefather of the Italian Renaissance.
He broke from the Byzantine style popular in the Middle Ages and began to incorporate elements of movement and perspective that came to characterise western painting.
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