Rare Baldassare Peruzzi nativity painting saved for UK as ‘Christmas gift’
Work created more than 500 years ago will go on display in Northern Ireland next year after export ban
A rare painting of the nativity created more than 500 years ago by Baldassare Peruzzi has been saved by the government as a “Christmas gift for the nation” after an export ban was imposed.
The Nativity, the only work by Peruzzi in the UK, will go on display in Northern Ireland next year. It was acquired by National Museums NI after funds were raised to buy the work from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Department for Communities NI and the Esme Mitchell Trust.
The painting, valued at £277,990, had an export bar placed on it last year by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Cultural items considered too important to leave the UK may be placed under an export bar.
The DCMS said at the time: “An extraordinarily rare painting depicting the nativity is at risk of leaving the country unless a UK buyer can be found to save the work for the nation.”
The Nativity was painted around 1515 by Peruzzi, one of the leading figures in art in Rome in the first decades of the 16th century who worked alongside Raphael and Donato Bramante. He was an architect, theatre designer, painter and draughtsman.
Most of Peruzzi’s paintings were in fresco and have been lost to history. The Nativity is one of only a handful of works outside Italy.
The painting is undergoing conservation work at the National Gallery in London before moving to its permanent home at the Ulster Museum in Belfast in 2023.
Peruzzi depicted his nativity scene at night. Its “nocturnal setting is most striking … Peruzzi’s use of dark tonalities for a work on this intimate scale was unusual, daring even,” the Arts Council said.
Stephen Parkinson, the arts and heritage minister, said: “For many, being part of a nativity play is one of the first ways that we learn the story of Christmas. That is why I am delighted that, this Christmas Eve, we can announce that this incredible painting of that famous event has been saved for the nation thanks to the export bar system.”
Simon Thurley, the chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said the painting was “an incredibly important artwork” and its acquisition was “a fantastic Christmas present for art lovers, and for Northern Ireland in particular”.
Jenny Waldman, the director of the Art Fund, said: “This is an extraordinary, and beautiful, work of art. We are delighted that … a painting by Peruzzi will now enter a public UK collection for the first time.”
The National Heritage Memorial Fund contributed £99,990 to the cost of the artwork. The Art Fund gave £100,000, the Department for Communities NI contributed £70,000, and Esme Mitchell Trust gave £8,000.