France has blocked the export of a painting by early Renaissance artist Cimabue after it was bought at auction for €24 million.
The long-lost artwork, which was found hanging in the kitchen of an elderly French woman, was bought by a couple of Chilean collectors in late October for more than four times its pre-auction price.
But, on Monday, France’s ministry of culture announced it had refused the export certificate for the work, entitled Christ Mocked.
Culture Minister Franck Riester said the action had been taken so the painting — one of only around 10 of the artist's known works to have survived to this day— will stay in France’s national collection.
The state now has two-and-a-half years to make an offer to buy the painting.
"I am not surprised the state is trying to enrich its heritage [by acquiring the painting]," said Dominique Le Coënt, auctioneer of the artwork, adding "the only thing that matters to me is that this measure is actually exercised and that the state has the means to buy it".
In a further twist, it emerged the elderly lady died shortly after the auction, meaning her heirs must pay €9 million in inheritance tax.
The painting, measuring just 20 by 26 cm, is believed to be part of a diptych consisting of eight small panels.
Cimabue, born in Florence in 1240, was a pioneering Italian primitive painter, who was the first to use perspective and paint in a more natural style, breaking Mediaeval and Byzantine traditions.