Estimated at €4m-6m, it was the first work fully attributed to the Florentine early Renaissance master to be offered at auction.
The 10 x 8in (26 x 20cm) tempera with gold background on poplar panel depicts the mocking of Christ and was discovered during a house clearance in the town of Compiegne. It was spotted by one of Actéon’s specialists, Philomène Wolf, in the kitchen hanging above a hotplate.
At the sale in Senlis, around 50 miles from Paris, on October 27, it drew bidding from six or seven interested parties including dealers Galerie G Sarti of Paris and Moretti of London, before it was knocked down to the latter at €19.5m (£16.9m) according to reports. Moretti is understood to have acquired it on behalf of two collectors.
The price including buyer’s premium was €24.18m (£20.9m).
The previous owner believed it was a religious icon but, following its discovery, it was authenticated by the appraiser and Old Master paintings expert Éric Turquin.
Turquin, who took phone bids at the auction, deemed it to be part of an altar series by Cimabue that includes The Flagellation of Christ (now in the Frick Collection in New York) and The Virgin and Child with Two Angels (now in the National Gallery in London).
The latter picture was also the subject of a major ‘rediscovery’ – it was found back in 1999 by Richard Charlton-Jones of Sotheby's Old Master department at Benacre Hall, near Lowestoft, Suffolk, the home of Sir John Gooch, 12th Baronet.
Due to be sold at auction in June 2000, it was withdrawn before the sale after a deal was agreed to sell it to the National Gallery for around £5.5m (funded in lieu of tax plus a donation by Sir Paul Getty).
After the discovery was announced to the press earlier this year, Turquin told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the current painting “was done by the same hand” and said that technical analysis uncovered close similarities to the small number of known works by Cimabue.
He has also pointed out that the patterns of worm holes found in the current work align with those in the National Gallery and Frick panels.
Turquin’s firm, Cabinet Turquin, was also called in to research and authenticate a painting ascribed to Caravaggio which was discovered in an attic in Toulouse. Due to be offered by auctioneer Marc Labarbe in June this year, it was sold privately two days before the sale for an undisclosed sum believed to be in the region of €30m (£27m).