France Won't Let Go of Long-Lost Masterpiece

Nation blocks export of painting by Cimabue, which hung for decades in a woman's kitchen
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2019 8:24 AM CST

(Newser) – France is trying to hang onto a medieval painting with a crazy backstory. The nation has blocked the export of a small, 13th-century work by the Italian artist Cimabue, a painting that hung unnoticed for decades above a hotplate in a French woman's kitchen. An auctioneer spotted the painting as the elderly woman was preparing to sell her house, and Christ Mocked then sold for a staggering $26 million at auction earlier this year, recounts the Guardian. The buyers are anonymous, but they're believed to be a group of Chilean collectors based in the US. Now, however, it looks like they won't be able to own the painting after all.

France's culture ministry has declared the work to be a "national treasure" and has at least temporarily overruled the sale, reports USA Today. The ministry hopes to hang the painting permanently in the Louvre, and it now has 30 months to come up with the money to buy it. In the meantime, the family of the unidentified woman who displayed the painting for years, unaware of its origin or its worth, must continue to pay to have it insured. They also owe a multi-million-dollar inheritance tax, and they'll likely have to work out a deal to pay it after the sale goes through. (The woman thought it was an ordinary religious painting.)

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