The parcel-gilt and silvered bronze roundel depicts Mars, Venus, Cupid and Vulcan and is believed to be from Mantua, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, and made around c.1480-1500.
It had sold at Christie’s in December 2003 for £6.95m (including buyer’s premium) and was owned by the buyer and their family until 2019 when it was purchased by the current owner. An export licence was then applied for and has now been temporarily declined by government.
Its earlier provenance includes being owned by George Treby III (c.1726-61) and the Treby family of Plympton, Devon.
The decision to temporarily block its export was taken by culture minister Caroline Dinenage. Her decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) which stated its significance for the study of North Italian bronze sculpture in the late 15th century and the history of English collecting in the mid-18th century when it first arrived in Britain.
“Loss would be a misfortune”
Specialist dealer Stuart Lochhead, who is also a RCEWA committee member, said: “Of an exceptional size and of the highest possible quality, this beguiling gilt and silvered bronze roundel represents the best of a highly sophisticated and intellectual humanist circle of artists and patrons active in Northern Italy in the late 15th to early 16th century.
“Yet many of its secrets are still to be revealed. While it shows clear links to Mantegna and Donatello, it is hoped that further study might reveal who designed and produced it and for whom and therefore contribute to advancing knowledge of the period.
“The remarkable craftmanship, aesthetics and mystery of this sculpture is captivating and its export from the United Kingdom and subsequent loss to the nation would be a misfortune.”
A decision on the granting of the licence has been deferred until September 27. This may be extended until March 27, 2022 if a serious intention to raise funds is made.
The price required is £17m plus £3.4m VAT.