Court Coconut Cups
Antwerp, German, Swiss, 16th to 17th centuries
Coconut, partly carved; mounting: silver, fire-gilt, embossed, cast and engraved, as well as copper, gilded and engraved
Height 17-36 cm
Coconut vessels were already considered to be sought-after collectable objects in the Middle Ages. The “Indian nut“ or “nut of the sea“ as the coconut was otherwise called, was considered very rare up to and in the 17th century and was especially popular. The coconut was believed to have had medicinal and magical properties. It already played an important role in Arabic medicine as a universal healing remedy. The coconut was considered to have had a poison-unveiling effect since the Middle Ages; for example, the Duke of Berry owned a coconut cup on which the tongue of an adder was attached – a combination that was intended to provide twofold protection against poisoned food and beverages. The belief in the protective and medicinal powers of the coconut explains why coconut shells were often crafted into precious drinking vessels. Interestingly, the people of the 16th and 17th centuries considered coconut goblets and cups to be much more than vessels with healing properties. In fact, these mounted nuts represented man’s ability to transform a rare form of naturalia into a valuable work of artificialia through artistic craftsmanship. Furthermore, such artificialia were the basis of the princely Kunstkammer. Thus this group of splendid mounted coconut cups illustrates the collecting culture in an impressive way, a culture that prevailed at the turn of the 17th century in German-speaking territories in the form of the Kunst- and Wunderkammer.