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Lot 112. A pair of doucai 'chickencups, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722); Diameter 2⅜ in., 6.1 cmEstimate: 80,000 - 120,000 USD. © 2020 Sotheby's

each finely potted, rising from a flat base to gently flaring sides, delicately painted with two scenes of a cockerel and hen with three chicks, divided by sprays of peonies and bamboo amidst rockwork, all between line borders, the recessed base with an apocryphal six-character Chenghua mark in underglaze blue within a double square (2).

NoteThis delicate pair of cups are inspired by the famous ‘chicken cups’ of the Chenghua period (1465-1487). Unmatched in their level of craftsmanship, Chenghua porcelain, and in particular enameled wares, were among the most coveted objects of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). They were considered rare and expensive already in the Wanli reign (r. 1572-1620) and their value rose even further during the Kangxi period, as mentioned in several contemporary texts. For example, Liu Tingji (active c. 1700-1725), the deputy assistant of Lang Tingji (1663-1715), the governor of Jiangxi, noted, ‘As for Chenghua… the price of a pair of chicken cups is 100 pieces of gold and they are difficult to purchase’ (see The Emperor’s Broken China. Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, p. 18). The exceptional rarity and popularity of Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ encouraged their reproduction in the Qing dynasty. During the Kangxi reign, ‘chicken cups’ were made either with Kangxi reign marks or with spurious Chenghua marks, and with designs that closely followed the prototypes. 

Doucai ‘chicken cups’ with spurious Chenghua marks include two in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Chenghua in the Ming Dynasty II, Beijing, 2016, pls 281 and 282; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum’s Special Exhibition of Ch’eng-hua Porcelain, Taipei, 1976, pl. 30; another from the collection of William and Jennifer Shaw, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 29th October 1991, lot 203, and again in these rooms, 11th September 2012, lot 41. See also a ‘chicken cup’ with a Kangxi mark and of the period, from the collection of Sir Percival David and now in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Stacey Pierson and Rosemary Scott, Flawless Porcelains: Imperial Ceramics from the Reign of the Chenghua Emperor, London, 1995, pl. 40; and a pair from the Edward T. Chow Collection sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 138. 

For the Chenghua prototype of this design see six examples in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the exhibition Chenghua ciqi tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ch’eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465-1487, Taipei, 2003, cat. nos 132-7.


Sotheby's. Kangxi Porcelain - A Private Collection. Live Auction: 22 September 2020 • 3:00 PM CEST • New York