The V&A is looking to raise £2m to acquire a rare 12th-century ivory carving depicting the Deposition of Christ from the Cross.

DCMS placed a temporary export bar on the walrus ivory carving last November. For 40 years it was on long-term loan to the V&A, ending in 2022. The carving has also been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hayward Gallery.

It must fundraise for the entire £2 million cost of the acquisition via trusts, foundations, donors, patrons, V&A members and support from members of the public.

The deferred export of the object came after a recommendation to the Secretary of State by The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. It said the carving, referred to as ‘the Deposition from the Cross’ was of national importance.

The V&A described the carving as “one of the finest and most important examples of English Romanesque ivory carving to survive today”. The carving is dated to about 1190-1200, and is likely to have been made in York, North Yorkshire, it said.

If the funds are raised, the V&A plans to reunite it with the only known surviving piece of the same ensemble, a fragmentary ivory carving of Judas at the Last Supper, discovered in Wakefield during the 18th-century, which is currently in the V&A Collection.

Both carvings would have likely once formed part of a larger work showing scenes from the Passion of Christ, including the Crucifixion, it said. At V&A South Kensington, the two pieces were exhibited side-by-side for decades.

Dr. Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, called the carving “one of the most beautiful, entrancing and historically important items to have been on display at the V&A” and said it was “vital that we return it to display, for free, for everyone, forever.”

James Robinson, Acting Director of Collections at the V&A, added: “This compelling work offers a rare, tantalising glimpse of the sophistication and emotional power of art in England in the Middle Ages, a legacy that was almost entirely obliterated by the iconoclastic ravages of the Reformation.”

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The Deposition from the Cross, Walrus Ivory Carving, Northern England, probably York, ca. 1190-1200. Courtesy of the V&A