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The auction house has high hopes they could make at least as much as the €4.4m (£3.67m) bid by the Louvre for a pair of marble mourners from the tomb of the Duc de Berry (brother of Charles V) at Christie’s Paris last year.

The addorsed figures of seated beasts would have been placed at the feet of the king’s effigy, one of a group of four family tombs commissioned by the young Charles V for the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris.

The sculptor André Beauneveu (c.1335- 1402) and his workshop took two years from 1364-66 to complete the tomb groups. Like many of the royal tombs, Charles V’s monument was dismantled in 1793 during the Revolution. It is not known when the lions became separated from the effigy, now restored to Saint Denis.

The lions, hitherto known only to scholars from an 18th century drawing and an engraving, have been in the same English family for over 200 years, since they were acquired in France by the English aristocrat Sir Thomas Neave. He is known to have visited France in 1802.

“They are really fantastic”, said Christie’s sculpture specialist Donald Johnston. He added: “I’ve known of them for over 20 years and I was always hoping that one day the owner would decide to sell.”

Johnston has been to St Denis to see the effigy and confirms that the marble and the polishing is identical. He adds: “To the reverse of the lions are the remains of two little dowels that fit into the effigy. I’ve measured both and they are exactly the same distance apart”.

Anne Crane