France blocks export of kitchen Cimabue

The panel painting by Cimabue that was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen outside Compiegne and sold at auction for $26.6 million in October won’t be leaving France anytime soon. Minister of Culture Franck Riester has refused to issue an export certificate the buyers. Now France has 30 months to scrape up the hefty sum necessary to claim the masterpiece for the national collections.

Christ Mocked is a 10-inch panel painted by the late medieval pioneer Cenni di Pepo, aka Cimabue, in around 1280 as part of an altarpiece diptych. Two other panels believed to be part of the altarpiece are in the Frick Collection in New York and National Gallery, London. The three panels share significant detail — the architecture, the gold background, the rich pigments and the design of the halos — and the poplar plank serving as a support to Christ Mocked and the National Gallery’s panel matches precisely. They were once a single continuous piece.

With only 11 other Cimabue works known to exist, all of them in museums, the bidding for this panel was hot, to say the least. The Acteon auction house did not reveal the buyer’s identity, but it did obliquely refer to a “foreign museum” having been among the bidders. That turns out to have been the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, despite its copious funding, was only the second-to-last man standing. The Met lost out to the Alana collection, a private collection of Italian Renaissance art based in the United States. It applied for an export license that was denied on Monday, December 23rd.

Following the opinion of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, the Minister of Culture signed the decree refusing the export certificate last December for this rare panel, thus conferring on it the status of national treasure for a period thirty months which will start from the notification of this decision to the owner of the painting. This period will be used to raise the funds necessary to carry out an acquisition for the benefit of public national collections in order to allow this panel to join the Maesta of the Italian master already kept at the Louvre museum.

“I salute the eminent role played by the export control system for cultural goods for the protection and enrichment of the national heritage and I thank the members of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, under the leadership of its chairman, Edmond Honorat, whose careful examination of the certificate refusal proposals clarifies my decisions. Thanks to the time given by this measure, all efforts can be mobilized so that this exceptional work can enrich national collections,” declared Franck Riester.

10 thoughts on “France blocks export of kitchen Cimabue

  1. I wonder how it could be considered French national treasure if nobody knows exactly how it ended up in France. Even more, it was painted in Italy. I think it will be best to return this treasure to the country where it originally came from and refund the money to the buyers in the USA. Otherwise, this war over the panel might never end.

  2. Seems very harsh on the seller, especially since the painting has no apparent connection to France. If a French institution couldn’t get the money together before, is it at all likely that one will now? I presume the original sale price needs to be matched or exceeded. :confused:

  3. Roma and friends,

    An interesting point, and I’m sure the Italians would be very pleased to have the painting back.

    It can be argued that countries of origin have a right to their artistic patrimony, especially when the chain of ownership is foggy. Look at the fits Egypt has been throwing over some of their treasures, especially the German-held bust of Nefertiti. And Greece wants the Elgin marbles back.

    But consider France’s greatest art treasure, “La Joconde”, more popularly known as “The Mona Lisa”. While it was likely started in Italy, Da Vinci probably finished the painting in France. Could the Italians lay claim to it? The French have the painting, and possession is, as lawyers say, “Nine points of the law.”

    The cynic in me says a cascade of ownership claims could rock the art world and cause international anger. The only winners would be lawyers. Of course, we would get a lot of high-class entertainment from the controversies.

    Yours Aye,

    Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge (SCA)
    (aka Garth Groff)

  4. If Cimabue lived a decent life (c1240 – 1302), 12 completed works does not sound like a complete oeuvre. I know what the 12 surviving works are, but not which museums own them.

  5. Common sense should have dictated that the Ministry of Culture issue a caveat BEFORE the auction, non?

    The Alana held a public exhibition of some of its works (not common) about two months ago in … France. Such a coincidence.

  6. But in the meantime the purchaser’s money is tied up. If they don’t ultimately get the picture, does someone have to pay them interest on their money? And, as someone above pointed out, why wasn’t it made public before the auction that the piece would not be allowed to leave the country? What a bunch of crooks.

  7. It sounds like a breach of contract to me, and the buyer should sue the auctioneer and get his/her money back, until the matter is settled.

    I also remember your piece on the Jane Austen ring purchased at auction by Kelly Clarkson, which was held up and denied under similar circumstance.

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