A temporary export bar has been placed on a painting of the nativity valued at £460,000.
The artwork, painted by Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi in Rome, is thought to date from the 1510s.
It is one of the few surviving paintings by the artist, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
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The export bar 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 is a beautiful and fascinating work, providing us with an invaluable insight into Roman paintings of the early 16th century.
“Given the rarity of a painting by Peruzzi and the amount we have to learn from this piece, I hope a UK buyer can be found so this work can be studied and enjoyed for years to come.”
The decision to impose an export bar was made following advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), an independent advisory body to DCMS.
Committee member Christopher Rowell said: “Peruzzi’s rare evocation of the nativity by night was painted in Rome in the second decade of the 16th 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.
“The price seems very reasonable for a painting of this date and exceptional quality and RCEWA hopes that it will remain in Britain, where it offers scope for further research into the innovations of Roman painting around 1515 and into 20th-century British connoisseurship of Italian art by Philip Pouncey and his distinguished contemporaries.”
The decision on the export licence has been deferred until October 22, but this may be extended until April 22 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £462,317.