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‘A Christmas gift for the nation’ – Peruzzi’s The Nativity saved by Museums NI


Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson has announced a 'Christmas gift for the nation' after a painting of the Nativity dating to the early 1500s has been acquired by National Museums NI.


Thanks to a fundraising campaign by National Museums NI, supported by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Department for Communities NI and the Esme Mitchell Trust, the work will go on public display at the Ulster Museum next year.



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 work, which depicts the Nativity at night, is one of only a handful of works by Peruzzi to survive outside Italy, and the only one in the UK.


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


Painted around 1515 in Rome, The Nativity is an exceptionally rare surviving work by Peruzzi. A highly talented Italian painter, architect and draughtsman, Peruzzi was born in 1481 in a small town near Siena and was one of the leading artistic figures in Rome during the High Renaissance. He worked alongside Raphael and Bramante in Rome, before returning home to work for the Republic of Siena, building fortifications and designing a dam on the Bruna River.


The majority of Peruzzi’s art works were in fresco and have since been lost to history, making The Nativity an incredibly rare piece.


Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson 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."


The export bar was placed on The Nativity following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. The Nativity is currently undergoing conservation work at the National Gallery in London before moving to its permanent home in Northern Ireland in 2023.



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."


Dr Simon Thurley CBE, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said:


"It’s wonderful and timely news that NHMF have been able to support the Ulster Museum in acquiring The Nativity by Peruzzi and ensure this incredibly important artwork remains in the UK. It truly is a fantastic Christmas present for art lovers, and for Northern Ireland in particular."



Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund said:


"This is an extraordinary, and beautiful, work of art. We are delighted that the export bar has allowed the Ulster Museum to make this important acquisition, and that a painting by Peruzzi will now enter a public UK collection for the first time."


Minister of State for Northern Ireland Steve Baker said:


"It’s fantastic news that this important work of art is set to go on public display at Northern Ireland’s Ulster Museum next year.


"Well done to all those involved in securing this historic painting for the enjoyment and cultural enrichment of people across the UK."



Funding provided to support National Museums NI acquire The Nativity is as follows:


  • National Heritage Memorial Fund: £99,990

  • Art Fund - £100,000

  • Department for Communities NI - £70,000

  • Esme Mitchell Trust - £8,000

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