Chinese chicken cup

A rare, 15th century Chinese cup broke the world auction record for any Chinese porcelain, selling in Hong Kong for $36 million. (Aaron Tam / AFP/Getty Images)

It measures only 8 centimeters, or about 3 inches, in diameter and couldn't even hold a cup of morning coffee. And yet it is worth $36 million. 

Or at least someone was willing to pay that much. A 15th century porcelain cup from China sold at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong on Monday for $36 million. The item -- which is being called a "chicken cup" for its depiction of a rooster and other fowl on its side -- was purchased by mainland China billionaire and collector Liu Yiqian, according to reports.

Liu is known as China's biggest art collector, with tastes ranging from the ancient to the contemporary. He and his wife, Wang Wei, own the Long Museum in Shanghai, where art from their private collection is displayed.

ART: Can you guess the high price?

The porcelain cup is believed to have been used for wine and was created during China's Chengua era, which was during the Ming dynasty, in the late 15th century. It is highly coveted for its rarity and history.

A businessman from the Philippines was the seller, according to reports. The item is believed to have broken the record for a three-dimensional work of Chinese art sold at auction.

In December, a large painting by 20th century Chinese artist Huang Zhao sold for $21.1 million at an auction in Beijing. In 2010, a painting by Ming dynasty artist Shitao valued at $15.5 million failed to sell at a Christie's auction. At the time, Christie's promoted it as the most valuable Chinese painting ever offered at auction.

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