Ministers have blocked the export of a rare £3 million cabinet created by a craftsman to the papacy in order to keep the treasured object in the UK.
The rare 350-year-old cabinet was made by Baroque artisan Giacomo Herman, who made ornate furniture for successive popes and the Roman gentry.
Worth £3.3 million, the ebony-veneered and jewel-inlaid piece may have been in the UK for centuries.
The piece has now been sold to a buyer outside the country, prompting ministers to step in and block the export.
Arts minister Michael Ellis said: “This intricate cabinet is an outstanding example of the work of 17th century Italian cabinet makers.
“I hope that a buyer can be found to keep it in the country so that future generations can admire it and learn about our rich heritage.”
The elaborate cabinet is decorated with lapis lazuli and gilt bronze, and features scenes from Rome, the seat of the papacy which employed Herman.
Officials will now seek funds or a willing buyer to match the price of the blocked sale, and secure the cabinet for the UK.
It was first revealed in 1669 to Cardinal Giacomo Rospigliosi, nephew of Pope Clement IX, at the Quirinal Palace, now a residence of the Italian president.
The Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) has decided stop the piece leaving UK shores.
It may have been kept in England since the mid-18th century.
Committee member Christopher Rowell said: “It is very much to be hoped that the funds will be raised for it to remain in this country.”
The decision on the export licence application for the Italian baroque cabinet by Herman will be deferred until July 8 2019.
This may be extended until November if a serious effort to raise funds to purchase is made at the recommended price of £3,300,000.