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A 15th-century devotional painting by the influential Netherlandish artist Dieric Bouts has been made subject to an export bar in order to prevent it leaving the UK.

The work, called St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, has been sold to a foreign buyer but the government hopes that an individual or a gallery in the UK can match the asking price of £3.3m.

The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, said: “This distinctive painting is the only example of St Luke drawing the Virgin Mary and Christ by a northern European artist on display in this country. I hope that a buyer comes forward to save this iconic piece for the UK.”

Bouts is a long way from being a household name but is considered one of the finest and most influential painters of what was a golden period of Flemish art. He was among the pioneers of the oil-painting technique and one of the first northern European painters to make use of single-point perspective, both of which can be observed in the painting.

His works have inspired many, including the contemporary artist Bill Viola, who was moved to tears by Bouts’ weeping Madonna, Mater Dolorosa. After seeing it, Viola went on to make one of his most famous series of video works, The Passions.

The recommendation to defer an export licence was made to government by the reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest(RCEWA).

Committee member Lowell Libson calledthe work an “extremely rare and expressive depiction” of St Luke drawing the Virgin Mary.

She said: “This painting includes not only a painter making a drawing – a study from life – but also a delightful passage which reveals a tantalising glimpse of a painter’s studio. This adds to our knowledge of how a Flemish workshop was laid out and organised. Its retention in the UK would enhance the study and our understanding of Flemish painting of the period.”

The privately owned painting has been in the collection of the National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle; it is the second painting from the collection to be the subject of an export bar in recent months.

In October, Rembrandt’s Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet also had an export barplaced on it, prompting the Art Fund to consider launching a campaign to raise the £22.5m needed to buy it for the nation. The vendor withdrew the export application, and the owner is now not allowed to remove it from the UK.

Potential buyers have until 26 February, after which the sale may be deferred again if a serious intention to raise funds is made.

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