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Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 9

Lesson 4: Dutch Republic

Frederiks Andries, Covered coconut cup

Frederiks Andries, Covered coconut cup, 1607 (Amsterdam), silver, coconut, 34.5 x 22.9 x 12.7 cm (gift of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in honor of Thomas S. Michie, and in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) speakers: Courtney Harris, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Beth Harris. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(upbeat music) - [Narrator One] We're in the Museum of Fine Arts, and we're looking at a Covered Coconut Cup. Although that name does not do justice to the fabulous object that we're looking at. - [Narrator Two] We have this coconut at the center of this cup, and it's surrounded by silver that has been chased and engraved and cast, and it celebrates the coconut and creates this enveloping silver shiny surround. - [Narrator One] In theory, you could put liquids inside it, the top comes off. - [Narrator Two] It is removable and inside you can see the inner shell of the coconut. If you peek through you can see that the spout is open and if there were liquid inside of it, you would have been able to pour it. But an object like this probably was so special to its owner that they wouldn't have dared put anything inside of it. - [Narrator One] We can go to the store and buy all sorts of coconut products, but here the coconut is lovingly and lavishly encased in this very precious material. - [Narrator Two] At the time when this was made in the 17th century in Amsterdam, coconuts would have been relatively unusual. They were starting to be imported into the Netherlands by the Dutch East India company. We know that an East India company ship had a number of coconuts from Indonesia on it in the early 17th century. And so the silversmith of this piece, Frederiks Andrise may have seen this coconut in Amsterdam and perhaps a wealthy patron requested that he create this incredible silver mount for it, and it combines both this exotic good from overseas with wonderful craftsmanship at home in Amsterdam. - [Narrator One] So much to see, what I immediately notice is this fish that seems precariously balanced on two shells carried by a mermaid, what a fantastic thing? - [Narrator Two] All of the imagery in this piece speaks to the see, from the top with Neptune with his trident all the way to the four feet which are tiny tortoises or turtles, between that is the mermaid who sits on a sea creature. Then she's on top of this undulating base that has shells and waves, and it's almost as though the ocean is in movement in silver and that's appropriate for a material like silver, which is a liquid material in some senses. - [Narrator One] And Amsterdam and the Dutch provinces are making enormous fortunes from the sea, from trading, from ships. - [Narrator Two] It's a very appropriate subject matter for a piece like this with a material that has clearly come to the Netherlands on a ship, the coconut itself. And it is extraordinary to be able to know that this was made in 1607 by a specific silversmith and Amsterdam. It has a small mark on it that identifies it as coming from the city of Amsterdam, another mark that identifies the year 1607, and a third mark that associates it with the silversmith Frederiks Andries. - [Narrator One] They're such a contrast to me between the smooth fluid silver on mermaid and or torso, which is so beautifully modeled and then the very different color and texture of the coconut, where you can see that the cover has engraved in the scales of this imaginary fish that has fabulous fins and this amazingly animated energized tail. - [Narrator Two] There's a beautiful contrast between the dark, deep, rich color of the coconut, and then this shiny silver. - [Narrator One] And then carved on the front, we can see the artist made use of the natural holes in the coconut for the eyes, and then some carving around the mouth of the fish, and then from the mouth of the fish comes this trumpet form and then a face, open mouth, and another trumpet that emerges from that. And that reminds me of a style that we call kwab or auricular where often we see one form emerging out of another, the sense of organic growth. - [Narrator Two] Auricular style in the Netherlands was becoming the main style in silver. It was particularly practiced by the Van Vianen family in Utrecht. And this piece I think is a ocean or sea expression of that style, where you see natural forms being manipulated, and it's very odd and slightly unsettling, which is what I think makes it so appealing and so attractive, we almost can't look away from it. - [Narrator One] And that monkey perched at the very top, just below the God Neptune who's striding forward launching his trident, and there's something so playful about this. We can imagine that this was admired, it was taken out of it likely a Cabinet of Curiosities, also called Kunstkammer, a place where the wealthy could display beautiful objects, exotic objects, take them out, talk about them, share them. - [Narrator Two] This is the perfect expression of a Kunstkammer object because it combines the natural world and the artificial world. The incredible virtuosity of the silversmith, which is transforming something that once grew on this earth, that is the Kunstkammer in a nutshell. And what you say about manipulating it and enjoying it with fellow collectors or on your own, it's an object that really needs to be looked at in the round. It has almost no front, so you are invited to circulate around it, to manipulate it, to move it, and in a way it creates the fluidity that is within this watery creature itself. (upbeat music)