Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Tankard

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Coconut with silver-gilt mounts

  • Museum number:

    M.36-1960

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 6

The contents of late medieval and 16th century cabinets of curiosities and buffet displays reflected the prevailing European taste for natural and man-made wonders enhanced with silver or silver-gilt mounts. These were primarily objects of delight rather than of use, although often made in functional forms. Little is known about the production and marketing of mounted vessels made from exotic natural materials, although it can be assumed that certain goldsmiths specialised in the field.

Coconuts are the fruit of the cocoa palm tree which is native to the Pacific. Mounted coconut vessels were popular items on the European buffet from at least the 13th century, evoking exotic and unknown worlds overseas, and were originally credited with magical and pharmaceutical properties, such as the power to detect the presence of poisons or to act as an aphrodisiac. Although mounted coconuts were often found in collecting cabinets, most often as standing cups and sometimes with zoomorphic mounts resembling, among other creatures, owls, ostriches or eagles, they do not seem to have been considered as rare as other exotic materials, like mother-of-pearl, nautilus shell, ivory or horn. By the late 16th century skilfully carved nuts (often with Old Testament scenes or mythological stories that appealed to Mannerist sensibilities), were highly valued, but the mounts on this unworked coconut must have been valued in their own right and demonstrate the goldsmith's skill in engraving, chasing and casting.

Physical description

An undecorated coconut mounted in two parts with a handle to form the body and hinged lid of a tankard. The silver-gilt mounts around the neck are variously chased with fruit and strapwork cartouches or engraved with strapwork and are linked to the similarly engraved round foot by three vertical straps each chased with a putto below a female mask. The cast handle is in the shape of a herm and terminates in a hoof. The thumbpiece is cast in the shape of a two-tailed mermaid. The lid is surmounted by a turned finial.

Place of Origin

Germany (made)

Date

ca. 1580 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Coconut with silver-gilt mounts

Marks and inscriptions

maker's mark DS in monogram, unidentified
On foot rim

On foot rim: Viennese control mark for 1866-1922 and Austro-Hungarian import mark 1901-21

Dimensions

Height: 20.5 cm, Width: 15.2 cm, Depth: 10.5 cm, Weight: 0.72 kg

Object history note

Fritz states that this was formerly in a collection belonging to a member of the Rothschild family, but does not specify which (see References).

Formerly in the collection of Albert Ullmann in Frankfurt am Main.

Purchased by the Museum for £135 under the Hildburgh Bequest.

Historical significance: Coconut tankards (i..e drinking vessels with a handle) are much rarer survivors than coconut cups.

Historical context note

The contents of late medieval and 16th century cabinets of curiosities and buffet displays reflected the prevailing European taste for natural and man-made wonders enhanced with silver or silver-gilt mounts. These were primarily objects of delight rather than of use, although often made in functional forms. Little is known about the production and marketing of mounted vessels made from exotic natural materials, although it can be assumed that certain goldsmiths specialised in the field.

Coconuts are the fruit of the cocoa palm tree which is native to the Pacific. Mounted coconut vessels were popular items on the European buffet from at least the 13th century, evoking exotic and unknown worlds overseas, and were originally credited with magical and pharmaceutical properties, such as the power to detect the presence of poisons or to act as an aphrodisiac. Although mounted coconuts were often found in collecting cabinets, most often as standing cups and sometimes with zoomorphic mounts resembling, among other creatures, owls, ostriches or eagles, they do not seem to have been considered as rare as other exotic materials, like mother-of-pearl, nautilus shell, ivory or horn. By the late 16th century skillfully carved nuts (often with Old Testament scenes or mythological stories that appealed to Mannerist sensibilities), were highly valued, but the mounts on this unworked coconut must have been valued in their own right and demonstrate the goldsmith's skill in engraving, chasing and casting.

Descriptive line

Tankard, coconut with silver-gilt mounts, German, about 1580

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Fritz, Rolf. Die Gefäße aus Kokosnuß in Mitteleuropa: 1250-1800. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1983, pp. 48, 110, cat. no. 132, plate 73.

Materials

Coconut; Silver

Techniques

Chasing; Engraving; Casting; Turning; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Cartouches; Mermaids; Strapwork; Masks; Finials; Hoof; Putti; Fruit; Herm

Categories

Drinking; Household objects; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.