The wooden nesting cups of the Qing court are a series of stacked cups (50, 100 or 150 in a set), paper-thin and graduated in size, that were carved entirely from wood and assembled within a wooden goblet. The cups were crafted in southern Germany and traveled extensively, along varied trajectories, from Europe to China in the 17thand 18thcenturies. Such nesting cups are richly endowed in meaning from the perspective of global history and would have impacted visual culture and related knowledge across a wide range of regions.
How they are displayed in contemporary museums reflects how they are viewed, interpreted, and organized by curators today; similarly, examining the presence of these wooden nesting cups at the Qing court and the location and manner of their display within the palace grounds provides insight as to how they were regarded in their own time.
Who are and were the person(s) most responsible for these perspectives? What impact did these unique objects have on the interaction between China and Europe, at the time of their appearance and in later history? These are some of the specific questions this study will explore.
The greater objectives of this study are twofold. First, it aims to use stacked wooden cups as a case study to promote interdisciplinary dialogue across the fields of global history, art history, and material culture studies. Second, it attempts to present the Qianlong emperor's general attitude towards objects from the “Western Ocean” and, by specifically exploring the context in which the wooden cups found themselves at the Qing court, to determine the thoughts underpinning that attitude.