A group of private collectors from Hunan has secured the purchase of a 3,000-year-old Chinese wine vessel - just a day before the ornate bronze relic was expected to go on the auction block in New York.
The sale will reunite the Min Fanglei with its lid for the first time since the two pieces were separated soon after their discovery in Hunan in the 1920s. The ritual vessel will be donated to the Hunan Provincial Museum, where the lid has been housed since 1956.
"After close consultation with the current owner over the last several days, Christie's has facilitated a private sale, allowing the vessel to be united with the lid kept at the Hunan Museum," Christie's, the world's largest auction house, said on its website.
The "king of all fangleis" was slated for auction during Christie's Asian art event, in which it could have fetched more than US$20 million, said Ji Chongjian, a Shanghai-based bronze expert and consultant at the National Museum of China.
The vessel is believed to date from the 11th or 12th century BC. More than 60cm tall, it is considered the largest vessel of its kind. The lid is more than 20cm tall.
Museums have been attempting to reunite the two artefacts for years. Details about the buyer were not available.
The Hunan Provincial Museum will reopen in mid-2015 after a three-year renovation.