France blocks export of rare, $26 million painting discovered in elderly woman's kitchen

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Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
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In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 file photo, art expert Stephane Pinta shows a 13th-century painting by Italian master Cimabue in Paris.
In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 file photo, art expert Stephane Pinta shows a 13th-century painting by Italian master Cimabue in Paris.

France's culture ministry blocked the export of a rare painting by Italian master Cimabue, which was found hanging in an elderly woman's kitchen, as the country tries to raise the funds to buy the work it now calls a national treasure.

French Minister of Culture Franck Riester said in a statement Monday the country will have 30 months to raise the funds to purchase the painting, "Christ Mocked," after it sold at auction in October for $26.6 million.

Riester said he made the decision following the opinion of the country's advisory committee on national treasures and intends for the work to be kept at the Louvre, where another painting by Cimabue, "Maestà," is held.

When "Christ Mocked" was up for sale earlier this year, it was the first time a work by Cimabue, a 13th-century pre-Renaissance painter also known as Cenni di Pepo, had ever been auctioned. It also set a world record for the sale of a primitive or a pre-1500 work, according to Acteon Auction House.

Cimabue's 'Christ Mocked' found: Rare painting, possibly worth millions, was just hanging in woman's kitchen, experts say

French newspaper Le Monde reported that Chilean collectors from the United States who specialize in Italian masterworks outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the painting.

The auctioneer who led the sale, Dominique Le Coënt, also told Le Monde his only hope now is that the country will have the funds to make the purchase. The woman who owned the painting died shortly after the sale, and her heirs have to pay almost $10 million in inheritance tax, he said.

The work was estimated to sell for $4.4 million to $6.6 million at the time. When it sold for $26.6 million, the woman who owned it was to receive the majority of the sale money, the auction house said.

"Christ Mocked" is a roughly 8-by-10-inch painting, part of a multi-panel work that was broken up and included scenes from the Passion of the Christ. Two other sections, painted around 1280, are displayed at the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.

Up until June, though, the rare painting had been hanging in a home in Compiègne, northeast of Paris, and mistakenly thought to be just another old religious work. The woman, who was in her 90s, had moved to a retirement home and was taking inventory of her house when an auctioneer spotted the painting, the BBC reported.

When the woman had it appraised, experts determined with certainty that it was a Cimabue work. There was "no disputing that the painting was done by the same hand" as Cimabue's other work, art expert Éric Turquin told the French news agency AFP at the time.

Cimabue, a Florentine painter, was hugely influential just before the Italian Renaissance began, and art journal The Art Newspaper described him as "the father of Western painting."

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: France blocks export of Cimabue painting 'Christ Mocked' after auction