A rare Cimabue
Cimabue, the first artist to break away somewhat from the Byzantine tradition, is deemed the father of Western painting. The appearance of one of his works has stunned the art world.
Cenni di Pepo, also known as Cimabue (known 1272 to 1302), Le Christ moqué (Christ Mocked), egg tempera paint and gold ground on a poplar panel. Total dimensions 25.8 x 20.3, current thickness 1.2, painted surface 24.6 x 19.6 cm.
This small panel was long considered a banal icon. Called upon to draw up an inventory, Philomène Wolf sensed something more and brought it to Éric Turquin for expertise. From there, the story unfolds like a fairy tale. The painting belonged to a devotional diptych, two parts of which, duly authenticated as by Cimabue, are in the Frick Collection and the National Gallery in London. Christ stands serenely at the centre of two groups against a golden background. The faces are individualised, expressing feelings closer to misunderstanding than hatred or contempt. Yet something violent is happening. The figures on either side have contradictory gestures. One, on the right, seems to want to embrace Jesus, while the other looks as though he is starting to pull away. The man behind him seems to grab the Lord's arm and, to the left, another has drawn a sword. In the upper part, two towers evoke Jerusalem, motifs found on other panels. The lively composition contrasts with the coded painting of the period. "Cimabue was, as it were, the first cause of the renovation of the art of painting,” Vasari wrote in his Lives of the Artists, published in 1550. He “made a Saint Francis on a small panel on a gold ground, and portrayed him from nature (which was something new in those times)." A bit further on, Vasari mentions "a Saint Agnes on a little panel, and round her, with little figures, all the stories of her life." Cimabue, then, painted works intended to be easily transported for private devotion, either in a church or for the personal oratory of an abbot or other ecclesiastic. Our subject may illustrate two episodes from the Gospel according to Matthew (26:47-51): "While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed swords and clubs. […] Then they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested him. But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out […]." The following chapter (27:30-31) says: "They spat on him and took the staff and struck him repeatedly on the head. When they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him away to crucify him."