Nativity scene by Renaissance master saved from leaving the UK

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A painting of the Nativity made in the 16th century has been saved by the UK government as a “Christmas gift for the nation”. The Nativity by Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi (1481–1536), valued at £277,990, had an export bar placed on it by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year.

The Nativity scene—described in a DCMS statement as “an exceptionally rare surviving work by Peruzzi”—has been acquired by National Museums NI and is due to go on show at Ulster Museum next year. The work, painted on wood, is currently undergoing conservation work at the National Gallery in London.

Anne Stewart, senior curator of art at National Museums NI, says in a statement: “Currently, there are no High Renaissance paintings [around 1490s to 1527] in any public collection in Northern Ireland, so this is truly a Christmas gift to our audiences.”

Funding of almost £278,000 was raised to acquire the work: The National Heritage Memorial Fund contributed £99,990 to the cost; The Art Fund charity gave £100,000, the Department for Communities NI contributed £70,000, and the Esme Mitchell Trust gave £8,000.

An export bar was placed on the painting in July last year when it was valued at £460,000. Christopher Rowell, a member of the Reviewing Committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest, said at the time: “Peruzzi’s rare evocation of the Nativity by night was painted in Rome in the second decade of the sixteenth century, when great artists like Raphael were experimenting with dramatic compositions and light effects.

“Long attributed to Raphael’s pupil, Giovanni Francesco Penni, it was identified as a Peruzzi in the 1940s by the British Museum’s considerable scholar of Italian drawings, Philip Pouncey, who owned the painting and reattributed no less than 110 drawings to Peruzzi, who was one of his favourite draughtsmen. Painted on panel, the picture is in remarkably good condition.”

Meanwhile, the UK government is considering a reform of its export licencing system for major artworks, to offer potential benefits to foreign museums around the world. In an interview with The Art Newspaper, the arts and heritage minister, Stephen Parkinson, said that he wanted to canvas views on possible changes.

The Nativity by Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi (1481–1536)

© The National Gallery, London

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