France has banned a woman from selling a valuable piece of 13th century artwork found hanging in her kitchen to a foreign buyer.
The artwork by Florentine artist Cimabue, titled Christ Mocked, had initially been sold for more than €24million (£20.5m) to US-based collectors.
It had for decades hung above the oven of an elderly French woman and its owner had considered it of little importance.
The unsigned work was sold at auction in October to US-based private collectors, but the French government has blocked the sale after this week classifying the artwork as a ‘national treasure’.
France now has 30 months to come up with the funds to acquire the painting itself.
Culture minister Franck Riester said the export block ‘gives us the time to mobilise all efforts for this exceptional work to enrich our national collections’.
The culture ministry hopes to acquire the painting so it can join Santa Trinita Maestà, another, much larger, piece of art by Cimabue housed in the Louvre.
Auctioneer Philomène Wolf spotted the painting in June while inspecting the woman’s house in Compiegne in northern France. The owners had apparently assumed it was a Russian icon whose colours had faded.
Wolf suggested she bring it to experts for an evaluation.
The small painting, titled Christ Mocked, measures about 10in by 8in (24cm by 20cm).
Art experts say it is probably part of a larger diptych that Cimabue painted in around 1280, of which two other panels are displayed at the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.
The painting’s discovery sent ripples of excitement through the art world.
Cimabue, who taught Italian master Giotto, is widely considered the forefather of the Italian Renaissance.
He broke from the Byzantine style popular in the Middle Ages and began to incorporate elements of movement and perspective that came to characterise Western painting.
Specialists at the Turquin gallery in Paris initially examined the painting and concluded with ‘certitude’ that it bore the hallmarks of Cimabue.
Stephane Pinta, an art specialist with the Turquin, pointed to likenesses in facial expressions and buildings, as well as the painter’s techniques for conveying light and distance.