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Christmas Gift to the Nation

Rare painting by the Italian artist Peruzzi - the only surviving work by the artist in the UK - goes on display at the Ulster Museum. The Nativity dates back to the 16th century and was acquired by National Museums NI in 2022.

The back of a person standing looking at a Peruzzi painting on a blue painted wall with down lighting
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The Nativity, a painting by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536), which dates back to 1515 is now on display at Ulster Museum. The painting, which depicts the Nativity at night, is an exceptionally rare surviving work by the Italian artist, and the only one in the UK. It is also the first High Renaissance painting to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland.

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which is supported by the Arts Council England, agreed that this painting was of national importance, and it had a significant history that would inspire future research. Following this, it had an export bar placed on it by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and was acquired through a fundraising campaign by National Museums NI, which was supported by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Department for Communities NI and the Esme Mitchell Trust.

During 2022-23, conservation and scientific analysis of The Nativity took place at the National Gallery, London, as part of the National Conservation Programme supported by the Aldama Foundation.

Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art at National Museums NI, explained how significant a moment it is for Northern Ireland to be home to a major work of the High Renaissance: 

“Most of Peruzzi’s work was in fresco and much has been lost. His oil paintings are extremely rare so it’s something of a Christmas miracle that we are able to welcome visitors to the Ulster Museum to enjoy this exciting new acquisition. 

“We’re incredibly grateful to our funding partners, but also to the National Gallery for the scientific analysis and conservation of The Nativity made possible by the National Conservation Programme supported by the Aldama Foundation. It’s wonderful to give the gift of Renaissance art to our audiences, especially as the subject of this painting depicts a scene which is synonymous with this time of year.”

Larry Keith, Head of Conservation and Keeper of Paintings at The National Gallery, London, said: 

“The treatment of Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity was undertaken by the National Gallery Conservation Department as part of our dedicated National Program for Conservation. This initiative, generously funded by the Aldama Foundation, allows the Gallery to share its expertise in conservation and technical examination on selected works from publicly available collections across the UK. In this case Olivia Stoddard, our Gavron Conservation Fellow, was able to effect a wonderful transformation of the work. This is the first painting by the artist - one of the key architects of the sixteenth century and an important painter as well - to enter a public collection in the UK, and it has been a great pleasure to work with our colleagues in Northern Ireland on such a fascinating project.”

Arts and Heritage Minister, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: 

"Advent is a time for celebrating miraculous gifts, exciting arrivals, and things which bring joy to the world – so it's a wonderfully appropriate time for Peruzzi's depiction of The Nativity to go on public display. 

"Our export bar system exists so that exceptional works like this can be acquired by public institutions across the UK. I am so glad to see it working so effectively in this instance, and hope that this marvellous painting will be enjoyed by visitors to Ulster Museum for generations to come." 

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

“It is with perfect timing that The Nativity by Peruzzi will now be on display at Ulster Museum for the public to enjoy. We are very proud that the National Heritage Memorial Fund was able to support its acquisition to guarantee that this incredibly important painting remains in the UK. Its display in the museum this December is a fantastic early 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 through this important acquisition for Ulster Museum a painting by Peruzzi will now enter a public UK collection for the first time.”

Commenting on the acquisition, Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, said: 

“We are tremendously grateful to all partners who supported this acquisition, and in doing so acknowledged the importance of strengthening Northern Ireland’s collection of art. Ulster Museum is a treasure house of the past and the present and its collection continues to evolve and grow. It’s wonderful to bring The Nativity to our audiences – a fitting piece as we approach the Christmas period and reflect on Ulster Museum’s important role in caring for the public’s collection.”

Two women sitting on a bench inside an art gallery at the Ulster Museum with a Peruzzi painting in the background and white writing on the wall.
Pictured at the unveiling of the painting are Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art (left) and Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI (right)

The Nativity will be on display in Art Gallery 1, 'Renaissance to Romanticism', from Tuesday 12th December and admission to the museum is free to all.