London dealer Roger Keverne bought this late Shang dynasty Chinese bronze for $7.2m (£3.87m) at Sotheby’s New York last month.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

London dealer Roger Keverne purchased the fangjia in the room on behalf of the UK-based Compton Verney museum at Sotheby's Chinese ceramics and works of art sale on March 20.

The 11th-13th century BC ritual vessel and cover was the most coveted of the 28 Chinese lots consigned to Sotheby's from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

It would have been used to warm black millet wine during sacrificial ceremonies and measured 121/8 x 8 x 73/8in (31 x 20 x 19cm).

No other fangjia are known to have this striking owl design.

The owl is an auspicious bird in Chinese art, believed to protect inmates against thunder and fire.

Chinese scholars and connoisseurs have long prized archaic bronzes, but only in recent decades, following a large body of scholarly research, has their value been recognised at auction. In 1953, the Albright-Knox Gallery purchased it for US$10,000.