Hans van Amsterdam (Low Countries, 's-Hertogenbosch, recorded 1535–65)
Silver gilt, coconut (Cocos nucifera)
H. 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm), Diam. 3 7/8 in. (9.8 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.622ab)
The exotic coconut, or "Indian nut" as it is called in Renaissance inventories, had been collected and displayed as an object of "miraculous powers" in the treasuries of pagan temples since Greek and Roman antiquity. These could be seen as predecessors of medieval church treasuries and later secular Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer. The coconut's curious form and obscure origin in faraway lands supported the idea of using the odd shell of the nut as a medicinal antidote. For instance, poisoned wine could be neutralized by drinking it from a coconut used as a cup, such as the example illustrated here. The carvings on this cup represent heroic themes from the Old Testament: Lot and his daughters, Samson and the Lion, and David with Bathsheba. All are mounted in silver gilt and decorated with grotesque herm figures, masks, and fruits. Latin inscriptions warn of the excessive appreciation of wine. Similar cup designs were popularized north of the alpine mountains in prints by Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Brosamer, and Hieronymus Hopfer, among many others.