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The 18th century gilt bronze casket set with Kangxi porcelain. Image © The Bowes Museum

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It was acquired with the support of the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of The Bowes Museum and joins the Barnard Castle museum's extensive collection of European fine and decorative arts from this period.

The hinged rectangular porcelain and gilt bronze coffer was formerly owned by the Duke of Lorraine - the brother-in-law of the Empress of Austria, and governor of the Austrian Netherlands at Brussels - and is cleverly made from three different types of Chinese Kangxi porcelain, carefully cut into sections and set into European gilt bronze mounts on a wooden framework.

The central plaque is fashioned from a large porcelain dish with its 'bird on a branch' motif set inside a circular gilt mount.

When the duke died in 1780 the object was sold at public auction in Brussels and in the 19th century was recorded in the collection of the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle in Cumbria.

It left Lowther in December 2011 when, loosely catalogued, it was sold by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh for £88,000.

It was later 'sold' to an overseas buyer but the sale was blocked by a reviewing committee, giving British institutions a final chance to raise the £193,250 asking price.

The Bowes Museum's keeper of ceramics, Dr Howard Coutts, said: "The method of construction is almost unknown at the time, and represents a highly skilled technique."