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©DIVA, Museum voor Edelsmeedkunst, Juwelen en Diamant Antwerpen  

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Hugo Maertens
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Hughes Dubois
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Owl cups are drinking vessels in the shape of an owl. They were very popular in the Netherlands and in several German-speaking areas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though few have survived. This one is the oldest surviving owl cup with Antwerp marks. Its coconut body makes it a very costly version. Owl cups were often given as wedding gifts for example, or presented as a trophy at crossbow competitions. They would certainly have been the object of great admiration in their owner’s display cabinet. People did actually drink from the head and the body in the sixteenth century. Vomiting after excessive drinking was associated with an owl’s pellets, which is why the owl was not only the symbol of wisdom, but also of immoderation and overindulgence in alcohol. Engraved on the rim, concealed under the head, is a line of verse in Old Dutch from a love lament by a young man who lost his sweetheart to slandermongering: “Als alle ander fogels sin thoe neste sois min lige beste”. It appears in several different versions on sixteenth-century owl cups and translates as: “When all the other birds are in their nest, my flight is best”.