Under Hongwu and still under Yongle the rate of failed red pieces remains considerable. The splendid Hongwu dish sold for HK $ 41M including premium at Sotheby's on April 7, 2011 is an extraordinary exception.
The mastery of underglazed red was finally reached under Xuande, who reigned 580 years ago. Far from the graphic sharpness of the Hongwu dish, the artists tested their new skills with massive silhouettes of fish or fruit.
On October 8 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a stemcup 9 cm high and 10 cm in diameter, lot 3001 estimated HK $ 40M. Three red fishes, one clockwise and two counter clock, adorn the outside wall and the imperial Xuande blue mark is inside.
Another almost identical specimen was sold for HK $ 15.2 million including premium by the same auction house before the renewed interest of the Chinese market for such masterpieces. It was on April 10, 2006.
Half a century before Chenghua, these Xuande stemcups anticipate the exquisite shape and tactile quality that will bring a matchless reputation to the Ming porcelains.