The anonymous painter working in the International Gothic style is known as The Master of Vissi Brod, after the altarpiece he created for the Cistercian convent of that name in southern Bohemia. The altarpiece is now in the collection at Prague’s National Gallery, although it still belongs to the convent of Vissy Brod.
Four of the panels in the altarpiece, depicting the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration and the Resurrection, are all attributed to the master while the five other episodes are thought have been done by his workshop.
The work offered at auction in Dijon by the local firm of Cortot & Associés is a small tempera on fruitwood panel measuring 10.25 x 8.75in (26 x 22cm). Depicting the Virgin and Child enthroned, it is thought to be a devotional panel produced by the Master of Vissi Brod c.1350 as a private commission.
It was kept in a private Burgundian collection for probably more than a century before being consigned to the auction house.
The panel was authenticated by the Paris Old Master expert Cabinet Turquin which spent four months investigating and confirming the attribution of the painting by comparing it to other known works by the artist. Scientific analysis of the work also reveals an architectural structure hidden under black repainting added in the 19th century and that the work has been slightly reduced in size along the top edge.
Stéphane Pinta of Cabinet Turquin told ATG that it was hard to say if the picture was created as single panel or part of a double-winged panel but "due to its very high level and small scale, we think it was conceived as an independent work".
Estimated at €400,000-600,000, the painting was contested in the November 30 auction by nine bidders – four in the room and five on the phones – with the hammer finally falling to the Benappi Fine Art gallery of London and Turin on behalf of the museum.
The price is the second-highest auction result in regional France this year following the €19.5m (£16.9m) paid at Actéon in Senlis in October for another small panel painting depicting the Mocking of Christ by the early Italian master Cimabue.
Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Met’s European Paintings Department, told ATG: "Bohemian paintings are very rare outside the Czech Republic and, in particular, Prague, and a work of this beauty and importance has not come on the market in a very long time.
"We have long viewed the absence of a work such as this one to be a gap we might never be able to fill in The Met collection. The picture will require careful conservation treatment to remove the overpainted background and reveal the elaborate architectural throne.
"We very much hope that the picture will introduce visitors to the cultural riches of Prague under Charles IV."