Ulster Museum to be gifted with Nativity artwork dating back to 1500s

Conservationist Olivia Stoddart working on the painting. Credit: National Gallery

A painting of the Nativity dating to the early 1500s has been saved from leaving the UK after it was acquired by National Museums NI.

The work, painted around 1515 in Rome by the Italian artist Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi, will go on public display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast next year following a fundraising campaign.

The piece, depicting the Nativity scene at night, is one of only a few by Peruzzi to survive outside Italy and the only one in the UK.

Valued at £277,990, the painting had an export bar placed on it by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year to allow time for a UK institution or gallery to come forward and purchase it.

It was acquired by National Museums NI with support from groups including the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and Esme Mitchell Trust.

Peruzzi’s The Nativity Credit: The National Gallery, London/PA

Arts and heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay 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.

“I am pleased that, following conservation, this work will go on display at the Ulster Museum where it will be enjoyed by generations to come.”

Conservation fellow Olivia Stoddart restoring Peruzzi’s Nativity Credit: The National Gallery, London/PA

Anne Stewart, senior curator of art at National Museums NI, said: “National Museums NI is delighted that this remarkable painting will be part of our collection, which has been made possible with the help and generosity of our partners and funders.

“Currently, there are no High Renaissance paintings in any public collection in Northern Ireland, so this is truly a Christmas gift to our audiences.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors to the Ulster Museum when it goes on display in 2023.”

Peruzzi, a painter, architect and draughtsman, was born in 1481 in a small town near Siena and was a leading figure in Rome during the short but intensely creative High Renaissance period.

He worked alongside Raphael and Bramante before returning home to work for the Republic of Siena, building fortifications and designing a dam on the Bruna river.

Many of his artworks were in fresco and have since been lost.

The Nativity is currently undergoing conservation work at the National Gallery in London before moving to its permanent home in Northern Ireland in 2023.

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