Dutch silver-mounted coconut cup and cover

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Second half 17th century
Engraved coconut, silver
27.5 cm

R. Fritz, Die Gefässe aus Kokosnuss in Mitteleuropa, 1250 - 1800, Mainz am Rhein 1983.
M. van Rijn, 'Bernstein, Kokosnuss und Koralle: Kunsthandwerk aus organischen Materialien' in: Die Kunstkammer der Herzöge von Württemberg, Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart 2017, p. 574, 575.

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Built up from the bottom, the silver mount of the goblet is richly decorated with floral motifs. Directly below the coconut, the realistic trunk of an exotic palm tree rises up, connected to the coconut itself by the highly detailed palm leaves. The representation of the palm tree in the silver mount makes this goblet unique in its kind. The nut is encased in three vertical silver bands. In between the bands, three cartouches with biblical depictions are carved into the coconut. Shown directly above the cartouches are scenes of the typical Dutch ‘long hunt’, a hunting party with fast dogs, that rely greatly on their sight. The lid of the goblet shows fine floral motifs, topped with a miniature of a tradesman, holding a sword behind his back. This coconut goblet was presumably commissioned by a Dutch wealthy tradesman, showing off his wealth and international spirit with this object. The goblet is a co-creation of a silversmith and a woodcarver.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the coconut was an object prized for its rarity and exotic origins, that found its way into many curiosity collections. These so-called ‘Nut of the sea’ were imported from India, the west of Africa and later on America. The coconuts were valuable because of their scarcity and their presumed medicinal properties. They were believed to purify poison; the coconut goblet protected the drinker against poisoning and death. Mounted in silver or gold, the coconut vessels are a combination of naturalia and artificialia that embodies nature and the hand of the master in one object. Nature and art complement each other in these extraordinarily crafted coconut goblets and form an artistic combination of an exotic natural product and high-quality craftsmanship. 

This coconut goblet depicts three scenes of biblical origins, telling the story of the attempt of king Saul to kill David. In the first scene, David, who is born a shepherd, is depicted playing his harp for the cattle. David is a musician of king Saul, playing for him when he is upset. But over time Saul has gotten jealous of David, greatly favored by the people, because of his efforts in the war against the Philistines. King Saul therefore wants to murder David, but his son, Jonathan, prevents this from happening because he is fond of David. The second scene depicts Jonathan warning David with a bow and arrow to hide. In the final scene, King Saul is seen fighting with David, depicted as a lion. David's harp is lying on the ground. After the failed attempt to murder David, David flees to safety, later on he will be crowned the new king.


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