The painting "Christ Mocked" (C), a long-lost masterpiece by Florentine Renaissance artist Cimabue in the late 13th century, which was found months ago hanging in an elderly woman's kitchen in the town of Compiegne, is displayed in Paris, France Image Credit: Reuters

Art historians claim to have unearthed a masterpiece by Cimabue, the Florentine painter dubbed "the father of the Renaissance", in an old lady's kitchen at her home near Paris.

Christ Mocked, a tempera painting on a wood panel by the 13th century artist, is estimated to be worth up to euros 6 million ($6.6 million), according to the firm Eric Turquin Expertise, an Old Masters specialist. It said the work, depicting Christ's passion, was owned by an old lady in Compiegne, northern France, who had it hanging between her kitchen and her sitting room.

It was directly above a hotplate for cooking food. It is not known how the unnamed woman, who is in a home and under legal guardianship, came into possession of the work, but it seems that she thought it was just a rather old religious icon.

Two other scenes from the work hang in the National Gallery in London - The Virgin and Child with Two Angels - and The Frick Collection in New York, The Flagellation of Christ.

Dominique Le Coent-de Beaulieu, head of the Acteon auction house, said a judge had called his colleague to empty the old lady's house in June. "Nothing suggested such a discovery was on the cards as the painting was found among other objects without interest," he said.

It is unclear if the work has been made available to other Renaissance experts to check its veracity. The painting is believed to be part of a large diptych dating from 1280, when Cimabue painted eight scenes depicting Christ's crucifixion. Historians only recognise a dozen works on panels as being by his hand although none of them are signed.

Several Cimabues have been lost in wars, floods and earthquakes.

Mr Le Coent-de Beaulieu said his colleague had realised there was something special about the work given the emotion on the face of Christ compared to other known Byzantine art figures that predated the work.

Tests using infrared light meant that there was "no disputing that the painting was done by the same hand" as other known works by Cimabue, explained Mr Turquin.

Mr Le Coent-de Beaulieu said there was further proof of provenance: the work was formerly attached to the one hanging in the National Gallery before being cut apart by a French collector. A woodworm trail between the two works fits "like a puzzle," he said.

"Traces of the original framing, the small round dots made with the same sort of stamp, the style, the gold ornamentation, the corresponding of the backs of each of the panels and their similar condition all confirm that these panels made up the left side of the same diptych," said his auction house.

The work will go under the hammer at Acteon in Senlis on Oct 27. The proceeds will go to the anonymous old lady. It is not known if she has any heirs.