Merry Christmas everyone! This one I’ve chosen to mark with a picture that’s very special to me: Baldassare Peruzzi’s Nativity, which has recently gone on view at the Ulster Musueum in Belfast. They acquired it last year after it was export stopped by DCMS and I was involved in securing it for the Nation, acting as its “champion” (ie. person in charge with finding an institution that will offer a price that matches its temporarily export-barred sale). Full credit of course goes to Anne Stewart, director of the Ulster Museum, who saw the potential of its acquisition for Belfast and raised the funds to achieve it. The picture was subsequently with our conservators at the National Gallery, cleaned and restored by Olivia Stoddart. It was a pleasure thus “living” with it for about a year.

This is not only the first Italian Renaissance painting to enter the collection, but an incredibly rare piece of the so-called Roman High Renaissance, ie. that crucial period in the first few decades of the sixteenth-century when artists, poets, humanists reshaped our culture, defining core aspects for what we call the modern era. Peruzzi was friendly with, and worked alongside such key figures as Raphael, Michelangelo, Bramante, and Sebastiano del Piombo. Primarily an architect, secondarily a freso painter, only htree or four easel paintings by him survive and this one is the finest. Before its recent sale, it belonged to the family of the great connoisseur, curator at the British Museum, Philip Pouncey who died in 1990. I hope he would have been happy with its entrance into such a fine national collection.

Check out this short video on X, featuring Anne, Olivia, Marika Spring, Head of Science at the National Gallery, and myself talking about the picture.