Turned goblet with 100 stacking cups

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Schloss Rosenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark
C. 1650
Maplewood, limewood
20 cm
10 cm

R. Schürer, ‘Die Kunst- und Wunderkammer’, in: D. Hess, D. Hirschfelder (ed.), Renaissance, Barock, Aufklärung, Kunst und Kultur vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, Die Schausammlungen des Germanischen Nationalmuseums, Band 3, Neurenberg 2010, p. 262, 263.

B. Gundestrup, Det kongelige danske Kunstkammer 1737 - The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1737, Hadersleve 1981, pp. 322 - 324.

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Height goblet 16.2 cm.
Diameter cuppa 6.3 cm.
Diameter foot ring 6.2 cm.

This extraordinary turned wooden goblet is of exceptional quality and complexity. The richly decorated foot and stem carry a beaker containing one hundred paper-thin cups (0.15 - 0.20 mm). These cups are individually engraved and are numbered, the outer cup is number 99, the inner cup number 1. All cups are present. The cups fit together perfectly and seamlessly. It demonstrates exceptional craftsmanship to manufacture these cups with this level of precision. The wood of the cups is so thin that it allows light to pass through, and when the cups are held up to the light they shine in a beautiful amber colour. The different levels of the goblet, characterised by recurring patterns of notches and rings, show the skill of the maker. It is remarkable to find both the goblet and the matching cover in this condition. A small number of similar goblets are known, see for example the two goblets in the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen and the goblet in the Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, all characterised by the same high level of craftsmanship.

The foot of the cup is perforated with a repetitive pattern of four arcs above two half-perforated moons, decorated with notches. The edge of the foot and the part just above the foot consist of several rings and notches. The foot is followed by a round, cage-shaped construction containing a small wooden ball. This little ball is made of the same wood as the bars of the cage, and was not added later via the central axis, but was cut loose from the stem of the cup with a thin knife between the bars. This exceptional detail confirms once again the craftsmanship of the maker. Above the round cage are the same decorations as on the foot and under the cage. Above this is a round piece of dark wood, decorated with a repetitive pattern. This dark wood is followed by two decorated discs between which the stem of the cup is visible. Around the stem are six particularly fine and thin rings which, like the ball in the cage just above the foot, were not added later but were skillfully cut and turned from the same wood as the stem. The rings are freely movable. Above the rings a disc of dark wood has been inserted. The engraved cup, containing the hundred smaller stacked cups, rests on the delicately carved upper part of the stem. The cup has been restored with a wooden insert. The hundred smaller cups are engraved in the same way as the big beaker and have a jagged upper edge. The lid of the cup is turned and perforated in the same pattern as the base of the cup. The case consists of a straight cylinder, richly decorated with a fine pattern of bands with repetitive notches, grooves and recesses, and a matching lid. On the top of the lid is a seven-leaf flower carved, with a slightly raised heart. The edge of the lid is raised. The number of cups stacked in the goblet is indicated by the stars on the bottom of the case: one star stands for ten cups. The custom-made case serves to protect the extremely fragile cup, which fits seamlessly into the case.

A small number of turned beakers with a multitude of stackable cups inside are known worldwide. The largest documented collection of goblets is recorded in the inventory of the wunder- and kunstkammer at Schloss Rosenborg (Denmark) in 1674: this inventory describes nineteen goblets with small and stackable cups inside. Some of these goblets are now in the collection of the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. Other known cups, originating from the Copenhagen collection or other kunstkammer collections, can be found as separate objects or in pairs in (museum) collections. No later or simpler versions of this concept are known, which suggests that it was the speciality of one turner or a select group of turners, who had the knowledge, skill and technological means (a specially constructed lathe) to shape these paper-thin cups. There are three theories regarding the production of these cups and the alleged masters, formulated by Dr. Ir. Alex Van den Bossche. The most likely hypothesis is that the majority of these goblets, containing one hundred stackable cups with matching cases, were made by one turner or one workshop, working at Schloss Rosenborg. This royal court turner will have been commissioned by the court to make the cups, keeping secret the technical procedure and knowledge of turning the cups paper-thin in order to preserve the uniqueness of his or her work. The complexity and elegance of these goblets, in combination with the similarity and coherent nature of the goblets in the collection at Schloss Rosenborg and with the cases that allowed the goblets to be transported safely, suggests that they were royal diplomatic gifts made in one workshop. Another option is that this specialised master travelled around and instructed other turners how to make these cups. This does not explain the high concentration of goblets in the 1674 inventory. A final, and least likely, option is that the process and the required specialist knowledge were documented and the specialist knowledge was spread across several European workshops. According to this theory, the cups were made by different turners. The documentation, or traces of now-forgotten documentation, describing this process is not known to exist. Based on the above options, and until an inventory is found in which more than nineteen similar goblets are mentioned and until there is no proof of other workshops, Dr. Ir. Van den Bossche concludes that one royal court turner manufactured the cups: the 'Schloss Rosenborg Master Turner'.  This goblet and case and the ones from the collection of Schloss Rosenborg have a striking similarity in craftsmanship and design: it is highly likely that the same masterly hand is involved. In line with the theory of Dr. Ir. Van den Bossche, it can be stated that this cup was made by the royal court turner at Schloss Rosenborg.  The goblet and cups were made by turning and working the wood on a lathe. This was done in the same way as the turning of ivory. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, turning was a distinguished hobby, practised by European nobility, princes, and kings. The turning of wood or ivory, using a mechanically powered lathe, was seen as an appropriate and virtuous pastime, in which the practitioner was trained in precision and concentration, and at the same time created fascinating objects which often served as (diplomatic) gifts or were part of a cabinet of curiosities. Craftsmen specializing in turning acted as teachers for the nobility, often staying at court. The turning was done mechanically with a lathe: a piece of wood or ivory was fixed in the lathe, which could make the object move in two or three directions at the same time. The maker took a sharp object and held it to the rotating wood or ivory. The different movements and directions of the mechanism allowed the maker to shape the object as desired. The craftsmanship of the maker, and in particular his or her geometrical and spatial insight, steady hand and precision, determined the complexity and sophistication of the final object. The mechanism of the lathe, which can be adjusted, makes these exceptional turned objects the first examples of ‘machine-generated art’. 

Two comparable goblets in the kunstkammer of Schloss Rosenburg:

Nationalmuseet Kopenhagen, Pokal og foderal, inv. nr. 224311

Nationalmuseet Kopenhagen, Pokal og foderal, inv. nr. 224314


Comparable goblet in Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Neurenberg:

Pokal mit 64 eingesetzten Bechern, inv. nr. HG11352_b

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