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Ostrich Cup

A work made of ostrich egg and silver gilt.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of ostrich egg and silver gilt.




John Spilman (English, born Bavaria, died 1626)
London, England

About this artwork

This elegant cup was made in England in 1590. Its elaborate silver-gilt cover and stem enhance the surface of an unexpected material: an ostrich egg. Ostriches and their eggs were very rare in Europe at the time, and not much has changed—when the cup was sold to the Art Institute, it had to go before the British export review board to obtain a separate license for the egg itself, because ostriches are now an endangered species.

Eighty years after the cup was made by John Spilman, Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraeten painted it for the grandson of John Whitfield, the original owner of the cup. The painting prominently features the cup, along with other objects that were being recorded for posterity. In much the same way as we might videotape items in our home to make a record for an insurance company, the painting records the cup’s existence, as does the will of Whitfield’s grandson (also named John Whitfield), which details the items in the painting: “a large medal of the King of Sweden, his mother’s locket of diamonds in three parts, his grandfather’s sealed ring, his stricking [sic] watch, the Estrich [sic] cup, and Queen Elizabeth’s Glass, which was his grandfather’s.


Currently Off View


Applied Arts of Europe


John Spilman (Silversmith)


Ostrich Cup


London (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



ostrich egg and silver gilt


Cup: 21.3 × 13.5 cm (8 3/8 × 5 5/16 in.); Lid: 11.4 × 14.1 cm (4 1/2 × 5 9/16 in.); Overall: 32.4 × 14.2 cm (12 3/4 × 5 9/16 in.)

Credit Line

Mary Swissler Oldberg Memorial Fund

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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