Restoration work has revealed that a highly-ornate chest from Blickling Hall is 400 years older than had been thought.

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Members of the public will be able to view the Italian “cassone”, or wedding chest, when the National Trust stately home, near Aylsham, re-opens next month.

Experts had thought that the gilded wooden chest, inset with painted panels, was a part-19th century replica of a 15th-century piece of Florentine furniture.

But work to clean and restore the chest had uncovered a different story, according to Alison Harpur , assistant curator of pictures and sculpture with the National Trust.

The piece was brought back from Italy, probably in 1861, by Blickling Hall owner the Eighth Marquess of Lothian who kept it at another of his homes, Newbattle Abbey, in Scotland.

“Improvers” in the 19th century regularly stripped original cassoni of their Renaissance-era painted panels, showing scenes from classical mythology, inserting them into modern-made carcases,

And it had been assumed that the Blickling cassone was a product of this Victorian fashion, said Ms Harpur.

But during restoration at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge, x-rays showed that the chest had once been fitted with a lock. In addition, the same wood grain extended beyond the panel area into the body of the chest, as did a large crack.

“It appears to be a substantially 15th-century chest, which is incredibly exciting for Blickling,” said Ms Harpur.

Staff are now preparing the chest ready for display in Blickling’s Back on Show event which opens on March 18.

The chest had been away for a year while the restoration, costing about £10,000, was carried out, according to Louise Green, assistant house manager at Blickling Hall.

Cassoni were usually commissioned in pairs by the bride’s father, or the groom. They were passed through the generations as both functional and decorative pieces of furniture and would have been used for storing household items, including linens.

Blickling’s cassone was moved to the hall by the 11th Marquess of Lothian in the 1930s.

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