The offering of a Willkommen Pokal, or “welcome cup,“ of wine to a guest was a long established tradition throughout Europe, and resulted by the late 16th century in the creation of imaginative animal-form drinking cups with detachable heads. The surviving cups from this period, formed as stags, owls, horses, dogs, and other creatures, comprise some of the most attractive, amusing, and desirable objects ever made in silver or, more usually, silver-gilt. Vessels in the form of game most likely graced the treasuries of princely hunting-lodges, while some of the animals represented those used in the coats-of-arms of a family or the symbols of a guild or corporation. Other cups, such as the horse-form examples, may have been prizes for competitions. Whatever their initial purpose, animal-form cups remain some of the most enchanting links with a vanished age.
Two bear-form cups from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, also late 16th century, were sold at Christie’s, Paris, 24 February 2009, lots 173 and 175. Another, from the collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan, was sold at Christie’s, Geneva, 19 May 1998, lot 179.