Private collector's £9.2m saves masterpiece from export

A masterpiece by Italian Baroque painter Domenichino has gone on display at the National Gallery after a private collector stepped in to save it from export. The painting was acquired for £9.2m by the anonymous buyer, who promised to exhibit it publicly.

Saint John the Evangelist, painted in the 1620s, is said to be the finest example of the 17th-century master's work still in private hands. It was sold to an overseas buyer last year but the Culture minister refused to allow its export under rules protecting works of cultural significance.

Instead, potential British buyers were given an opportunity to match the £9m offer, preventing the painting from going abroad. National Gallery curator Dawson Carr said the painting's export would have been "lamentable for the representation of Italian Baroque painting in this country".

He added: "Depictions of divine inspiration were a mainstay of Baroque artists, and the heroic pose and focused, serene gaze of Domenichino's figure make it one of the finest interpretations of the classical tradition."

The painting was commissioned by the Giustiniani family – prominent patrons of the age – and would have hung in what is now the Italian Senate in Rome.

The National Gallery's director, Dr Nicholas Penny, called the outcome "a triumph" and paid tribute to the "the imagination and confidence" of the collector.