Carving in amber has long been regarded as one of the most virtuoso, and highly prized, expressions of northern European artistry. This was especially the case in the late 16th and 17th centuries when members of the royal houses of Austria and Germany feverishly collected, and commissioned, artists to produce virtuoso works of art in exotic materials for their kunstkammer collections. The purpose of these collections was to enhance the Fürstliche Reputation und Zier (princely reputation and decoration) as well as the intellectual understanding of the natural world. Through the carving and subsequent observation of wondrous natural elements such as amber, hardstones and ivory, these collectors felt as if nature, and indeed the universe itself, could be categorised and shaped by mankind.
In terms of form and style of decoration, the cup offered here is closely comparable to three other elaborate cups cited by Rohde, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Musée Cluny, Paris and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna that are dated to the first half of 17th century (loc. cit.). Although the decoration on the body of the present lot is engraved, while on the latter examples it is rendered in relief, it is not an entirely unusual characterstic - as can be seen on the base of a candlestick dated to circa 1650 and illustrated in Laue, Bernstein kostbarkeiten - Europäischer kunstkammern, Munich, 2006, no. 7.