German Germany, Owl Beaker, 1556, Coconut shell, with gilt-silver mountings; 22.9 x 10.8 x 12.1 cm (9 x 4 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches), Gift of Miss Ellen D. Sharpe and Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 52.533
A princely obligation of a noble European during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was to collect rare and marvelous objects that encompassed the wonders of God’s creation (the natural world) and man’s art. Frequently, the two overlapped when fossils or minerals were elaborately mounted in gold or silver. This owl beaker with coconut-shell body has detailed flappable wings, an owl’s head for a cap, and delicate legs and tail for a stand. The rarity of a coconut in sixteenth-century northern Germany probably confined this object to a curiosity cabinet, but it may have been put to use. During this period, some considered coconut milk a panacea, or an aphrodisiac, so a coconut shell cup could have been credited with restorative properties.