A temporary export ban has been placed on a 15th century gothic statue of Saint Christopher.
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) the German artwork is valued at £10 million.
The statue is a companion piece to a figure of Saint Sebastian, which is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The export ban, imposed by the DCMS, is to allow time for a UK institution or gallery to come forward and purchase it to prevent it being sold overseas.
Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said: “This breathtaking piece is testament to the outstanding skill of goldsmiths in the 15th century.
“I hope that a UK buyer can be found so the statuette can stay in the country along with its companion reliquary, the figure of Saint Sebastian.”
The statue was given to the Monastery of Kaiserheim in Germany in 1493 and was partly paid for by Duke Frederick of Saxony, according to the DCMS.
“Compared with other pieces from the same period, experts considered the work to be almost unrivalled in its sculptural beauty and delicate detailing,” a statement from the department said.
The “rare object has very few comparisons in the UK or abroad”, it added.
The statue shows the saint wading through a river with the figure of Christ as a child sitting on his right shoulder.
The export ban was placed on the object following advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Object of Cultural Interest.
Committee member Pippa Shirley said: “This wonderful object, the product of enlightened patronage in one of the pre-eminent artistic centres north of the Alps, combines sculptural brilliance and technical skill with the most touching humanity, tenderness, power and realism.
“You can feel the water tugging at the saint’s legs as he strides across the river with his precious burden, his cloak billowing around him in the wind.
“Silver sculpture of this date is rare, and objects of this quality rarer still, so, even though it is well documented, there is much to learn, about how and by whom it was made, the relics it contains and its relationship to its companion, Saint Sebastian, as well as its later history.
“All of this means that its departure would be a great loss to the nation.”
A decision on whether the statue can be exported has been deferred until October 3; however this can be extended until April 3 next year if a serious intention to raise funds to buy it at the recommended price of £10 million is made.