The UK has placed a temporary export ban on a late 15th-century bronze roundel made in the Lombardy city of Mantua and valued at £17m.
The Renaissance roundel, which depicts Venus, the Roman goddess of love, surrounded by her lover Mars, husband Vulcan and son Cupid, is at risk of being sold overseas unless a UK buyer can be found.
The culture minister Caroline Dinenage announced the ban in a statement which said the roundel was larger, more complex and more refined than other examples in British collections produced in Mantua at that time.
The Gosport MP said: “This piece is a stunning combination of myth and mystery. I hope a UK buyer can be found so that researchers can reveal its secrets and the public can see this striking design on display.”
The ban follows advice from the reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural nterest, which said its size and unique composition made the roundel “extremely technically interesting as well as an object of outstanding beauty”.
Although the artist is not known, committee member Stuart Lochead said the piece showed clear links to Donatello and Mantegna.
“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,” Lochead added.
Die Departement vir Digitale, Kultuur, Media and Sport said the decision on the export licence application had been deferred until 27 September in the hope a domestic buyer could be found.
This can be extended until 27 Maart 2022 if there is a serious intention from someone to raise the funds to buy the piece.