An art dealer was hired to assess the contents of an old client’s home. Most things in the house were expected to go to the garbage dump. However, in the old woman’s kitchen, she happened to notice a small painting hanging on the wall. Looking at it more closely, she was sure it was an old pre-Renaissance Italian work that might have some value and he forwarded it to experts for analysis.
The experts determined that it was indeed an original work called Christ Mocked by Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, the teacher of Giotti. As noted in the Smithsonian Magazine:
“Based on their assessment, the researchers suggest the panel belongs to a polyptych created by the Old Master around 1280. Today, just two other sections of the work are known to survive: The Flagellation of Christ, purchased by New York’s Frick Collection in 1950, and The Virgin and Child With Two Angels, acquired by the National Gallery in London in 2000 … Speaking with the Art Newspaper’s Scott Reyburn, Turquin says a key piece of evidence supporting the attribution is a trail of centuries-old tracks left by wood-gnawing larvae. All three boast comparable worm hole patterns. “You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” Turquin says. “It’s the same poplar panel.”
Its importance was highlighted in an article in The Art Newspaper:
“The Paris-based dealer Giovanni Sarti [said] “It’s very important and Cimabue paintings are so rare—this is the beginning of modern painting. People say Giotto was the father of modern painting but really, it’s Cimabue.”
It was sent for auction this past weekend with an anticipated value of $6 million. However, interest was so great that the final winning bid was for an incredible $26.8 million! The price makes it the eighth most expensive Old Master—and the most-expensive pre-1500 painting—to be sold at auction.