Duke of Lorraine's unique 18th century treasure casket is bought by Bowes Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 21 October 2013

Once owned by an important European Duke, an ornate 18th century gilt coffer will give curators at Durham’s Bowes Museum a unique case study after being bought with help from the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

A photo of an ornate gold and blue casket from the 18th century
A £200,000 casket will join the collection at the Bowes Museum© Bowes Museum
The Duke of Lorraine – a brother-in-law of the Empress of Austria and Governer of the Austrian Netherlands at Brussels – was the original keeper of the bronze casket, made with a highly unusual combination of three different styles of Chinese porcelain vases, cut into sections and set into plant, flower, tree and landscape motifs on a wooden frame.

A large porcelain dish, emblazoned with a bird on a branch, tops a wooden liner where the Duke would have kept his treasures prior to his death in 1780. The casket was then sold in a public auction in the Belgian capital.

“The method of construction is almost unknown at the time,” says Dr Howard Coutts, the Keeper of Ceramics at the museum.

“It represents a kind of highly skilled and complex manual technique – often reserved for items of ‘Princely Magnificence, destined for royal treasuries.”

Until 2011 it was recorded in the renowned decorative art collection of the Earl of Lonsdale, housed at Lowther Castle in Cumbria. But the Culture Minister prevented international buyers from bidding for it at the end of 2012, giving British institutions a final chance to raise the £193,250 asking price.

Lord Inglewood, the Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, called the casket a “beautiful” and “evocative” work capable of revealing an aspect of Chinese porcelain in Europe “in a way no other object can.”

  • Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar, Bowes Museum Director Adrian Jenkins and Professor Nick Pearce, of Glasgow University, will discuss the casket at a special event at the museum on February 27 2014. Tickets £15, telephone Lesley Taylor on 01833 650789 for details.

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