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Heavily cast square section lei (wine containers with three ‘ears’) are among the rarest of Chinese bronzes, and of the half a dozen other examples publicly known to exist, five are held by museums. None of them is as large as this vessel (even though its cover was missing) and only one other has similar hooked flanges to the four corners.

Another unusual aspect of the vessel concerned the horns of its taotie mask handles, which had been formed as coiled dragons. The patina and condition of the vessel was excellent, and its provenance over the last 100 years could scarcely be bettered. During that time it had passed through four distinguished collections and had been handled by C.T. Loo and Umekichhi Asano, two of the greatest dealers in Chinese Art.

At Christie’s it sold to a collector for $8.4m (£5.9m) plus 17.5/10 per cent buyer’s premium.