The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles had purchased the painting from Sudeley Castle, the Cotswolds home of the Dent-Brocklehurst family, last year. The painting had previously been on loan to the National Gallery in London.
Culture minister Matt Hancock has placed a temporary export bar on the 16th century masterpiece, an oil on paper Virgin and Child with Saint Mary Magdalen and the Infant Saint John the Baptist, c. 1535-40, by Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (called Parmigianino).
Hancock said: "This incredible painting has been in the UK for almost 250 years and showcases the amazing talent of Parmigianino and his eloquent approach to composition.”
A Getty spokesperson said: "This is the usual process and what we expected. We understand and respect the UK's export license process."
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.
The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the painting’s aesthetic importance and outstanding significance to the study of Parmigianino’s oeuvre and to the 16th century practice of painting on paper laid on panel.
RCEWA member Aidan Weston-Lewis said: “I can’t think of a more ravishingly beautiful Italian Old Master painting remaining in any private collection in the United Kingdom. It is in pristine condition, has a very distinguished ownership history and, unusually for the period, has the additional fascination of being painted on paper, which opens up new avenues for scholarly research and technical investigation. Its permanent export overseas would be a major loss.”
Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended £24.5m (plus VAT of £196,000) may also be considered by Hancock.
The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until June and could be extended until December 9.