top of page
  • Gavin O'Donoghue

Something of a Christmas miracle, the Ulster Museum welcomes visitors to enjoy Baldassare Peruzzi's 'The Nativity'

500-Year-Old Masterpiece Unveiled: Belfast Welcomes Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity

Take a moment to be captivated by the intricate details, vibrant colors, and profound emotion that breathe life into Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity – a 500-year-old treasure recently unveiled in the heart of Belfast. We delve into the history, significance, and sheer brilliance behind one of Italy's greatest Renaissance artists. Get ready to immerse yourself in an awe-inspiring experience that will leave you marveling at the timeless beauty preserved within this remarkable artwork.

Belfast, Ireland, is known for its rich history and cultural heritage. This vibrant city surprises visitors with its treasures, from the iconic Giant's Causeway to the stunning Titanic Museum. And now, there is yet another reason to visit this beautiful city – the unveiling of a 500-year-old masterpiece.

Belfast is proud to welcome Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity, a rare and exquisite artwork that has captivated art enthusiasts worldwide. The painting was created in the early 16th century by Italian Renaissance painter Baldassare Peruzzi, renowned for his exceptional architectural and painting skills.

This remarkable piece of art depicts the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, with Mary and Joseph surrounded by angels and shepherds. The attention to detail and vibrant colors make this painting breathtaking. Peruzzi took inspiration from ancient Roman frescoes while creating this masterpiece, adding an interesting historical aspect.

The Nativity has had a long journey before making its way to Belfast. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese initially commissioned it for his palace in Rome. The painting then changed hands several times before being acquired by George Gartshore for his private collection in Scotland.

For many years, this magnificent artwork remained hidden at Gartshore's estate. It was finally purchased by an anonymous buyer who generously donated it to Northern Ireland's National Trust.

Who is Baldassare Peruzzi?

Baldassare Peruzzi was an Italian Renaissance architect, painter, and designer who lived from 1481 to 1536. He was born in Siena, Italy, and trained under the renowned painter Giovanni di Pietro (also known as Lo Spagna). His mentor's style largely influenced Peruzzi's early works, but he developed his unique artistic approach later.

Peruzzi is best known for his contributions to the field of architecture. He worked on several notable projects throughout Italy, including the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne in Rome and Villa Farnesina in Florence. His architectural designs were distinguished by their harmonious blend of classical elements with contemporary influences.

Aside from his architectural achievements, Peruzzi was also a skilled painter and designer. He was known for creating elaborate frescoes and intricate designs for tapestries and furniture. His paintings often featured classical themes and subjects, showcasing his deep understanding of ancient art.

The masterpiece is a large-scale painting that measures over six feet tall and eight feet wide. It depicts the biblical scene of Christ's birth with stunning detail and vibrant colors.

What makes this particular Nativity painting even more remarkable is its history. It was initially commissioned by Pope Clement VII in 1522 for display at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. However, due to political turmoil, it has yet to reach its intended destination.

The wealthy Florentine banker Agostino Chigi commissioned Peruzzi, an Italian painter and architect, to create the Nativity for his private chapel in Rome. The painting was intended to be the chapel's centerpiece and serve as a visual representation of Chigi's devotion to Christianity.

Peruzzi's artistic style blended elements from both Renaissance and Mannerist movements, resulting in a unique composition that captured the attention of many. He incorporated intricate details such as vibrant colors, delicate brushstrokes, and realistic figures into his work, making it stand out among other religious paintings of that time.

The painting remained in Chigi's private collection until 1562 King Philip II of Spain acquired it. It then became part of the royal collection at El Escorial Palace near Madrid, where it remained for nearly four centuries.

In 1933, during the Spanish Civil War, many priceless works of art were evacuated from El Escorial Palace for safekeeping. Among them was Peruzzi's Nativity painting, which found its way to Northern Ireland through an Irish Colonel who purchased it at an auction in France.

For decades, the painting hung unnoticed on a wall at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast until it caught the eye of Dr. William Fra.

Origin of the Painting

Baldassare Peruzzi was a renowned Italian architect and painter during the High Renaissance period. Pope Julius II commissioned him to create this religious painting for his private chapel in Rome. It is said that Peruzzi took inspiration from the works of Raphael, one of the greatest masters of the time.

The Nativity painting depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, and other biblical figures. Its detailed composition and vibrant colors make it one of Peruzzi's finest works.

The Journey to Belfast

After being displayed at Pope Julius II's private chapel for several decades, the painting was eventually acquired by an English collector in the late 18th century. Over time, it changed hands multiple times before ending up with a wealthy merchant family in London.

In 1830, William Shaw Mason - a prominent British art dealer - purchased the painting from this family and brought it back to England. It remained hidden in private collections for many years until recently when his descendants decided to put it up for auction.

Conservation Efforts for the Masterpiece

The recently unveiled masterpiece, Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity, has been carefully restored and conserved over the years to ensure its preservation for future generations. This painting, over 500 years old, holds immense historical and cultural significance, making it a valuable piece of art for Belfast and the world.

The conservation efforts for this masterpiece began in the late 19th century when a private collector acquired it. Due to age and neglect, its fragile state prompted restoration work to be carried out by experts to stabilize the painting and prevent further deterioration.

One of the key challenges faced during conservation efforts was addressing the damages caused by previous restorations. The use of harsh chemicals and techniques had caused discoloration, flaking paint, and loss of details in certain areas. To rectify these issues, a team of specialists used advanced imaging technology such as infrared reflectography and x-radiography to determine the original layers of paint and composition.

After thorough analysis and research, a delicate process known as "consolidation" was undertaken where loose or flaking paint was secured onto its support using appropriate adhesives. This ensured that any further damage would be prevented while handling or moving the artwork.

Another crucial aspect of conservation involved cleaning the surface of the painting without causing harm to its delicate layers. For this purpose, special solvents were used along with gentle swabbing techniques to remove dirt accumulation without altering it.

Viewing and Admission Information

The unveiling of Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity in Belfast has caused quite a buzz among art enthusiasts and historians alike. This remarkable masterpiece, created over 500 years ago, is finally being displayed to the public for the first time in its full glory. If you plan to visit this exquisite artwork, here is all the information you need to know about viewing and admission.


The Nativity can be viewed at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The museum is located in Belfasts Botanic Gardens, just a short distance from the city center. It is easily accessible by car or public transportation.

Opening Hours:

The Ulster Museum is currently open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. It is closed on Christmas Day and on Easter Sunday.

Admission Fees:

Entry to the Ulster Museum is free for all visitors. This includes viewing Baldassare Peruzzi's Nativity and other permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Guided Tours:

Guided tours are available at certain times throughout the day for those who wish to enhance their viewing experience and learn more about this masterpiece. These tours are led by knowledgeable museum staff who will provide insights into Peruzzi's life and artistic techniques in creating this piece.

Booking Information:

Booking for guided tours is optional but highly recommended as they fill quickly. Book online through the museum's website or call their booking line during opening hours to secure your spot.


After five centuries of lying hidden and undiscovered, the masterpiece painted by renowned Italian artist Baldassare Peruzzi has finally been unveiled in Belfast. The Nativity, a stunning depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ, is now on public display at the Ulster Museum for all to see.

This momentous event marks the end of a long journey for this painting, which has survived wars, relocations, and even attempts at destruction. Its discovery celebrates artistic excellence and is a testament to its resilience and enduring significance.

The unveiling of this 500-year-old masterpiece is an exciting development in art history. Peruzzi was one of the most influential artists during the High Renaissance period, and his works are held in high esteem by art critics and enthusiasts alike. He was known for his exceptional skill in creating realistic depictions through detailed use of color, light, and perspective.

The Nativity painting showcases Peruzzi's mastery of these techniques and his ability to capture raw emotion and tell stories through his art. The scene depicted is familiar to many - Mary holding baby Jesus surrounded by Joseph, shepherds, angels, and animals -. Still, it is brought to life with such depth and intricacy that it feels like witnessing it firsthand.

What makes this unveiling even more significant is that it was previously believed that no original works by Peruzzi existed outside Italy. However, after extensive research and authentication processes conducted by experts from various institutions, including the National Gallery

13 views0 comments


bottom of page