A five-century-old wine cup painted with chickens is set to fetch from HK$200-300 million (US$25.5 to 38.5 million) when it goes under the hammer in Hong Kong in April.
Only 15 of these cups from the Chinese Ming dynasty remain in the world, and only four of them are in private collection, according to Sotheby's, which is hosting a media preview on Wednesday (March 12) and auctioning off the cup in their Spring sales.
Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia and International Head of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, said the cup is likely to fetch more than the estimate price and set a new record for Chinese ceramics and works of art.
"These chicken cups were produced for the Chenghua emperor, and soon after that, later emperors all collected them. They adored them, they praised them, they had them copied. These are, I would say, objects bathed in mythology. And this is why they are so valuable, their legendary aura goes far far beyond their historical importance," Chow said.
The same cup was sold in a 1999 auction for US$4 million, breaking the previous world record for Chinese art.
Chow said the cup was created in the famed Chinese porcelain town of Jingdezhen under the reign of the Ming emperor Chenghua in 1465-87, a period known for producing fine porcelain.
"The glaze is extraordinarily silky. It's a real joy to caress. I would say apart from the design, which is unmannered, very simple and modest, it's really the tactile dimension which is so remarkable," Chow said of the cup.
The chicken cups that are not in private hands are mostly in a Taiwanese museum, and none of them are known to be in mainland China. But chicken cup replicas are aplenty in Chinese antique markets, according to Chow.
"These are about the most forged and reproduced objects in the history of China, and I think if you go to any antique market in China, you will also find them by the hundreds. They are iconic objects. This is really, I would say what to the west the Mona Lisa could be. It is something that really represents what is the most desirable and the most expensive in Chinese art," Chow said.
The current world record for the most expensive Chinese porcelain or Chinese works of art sold at an auction is a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) vase, which was sold for HK$252.66 million (US$32.4 million) in October 2010 in Hong Kong.
The cup is set to go under the hammer on April 8 during Sotheby's Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Spring Sale.