Turned ivories, or ivory objects worked on a lathe to create varying geometric forms, were popular among European princely collectors in the 1600s. The sense of precarious balance caused by carving the cup so that its components seem to spin around a shifting vertical axis would have been a source of amusement for these aristocrats. The chubby, nude infants that play musical instruments around the body and on the stem of the vessel and the cherub with his bow and arrow on the top were probably added later in the century.
This stemmed cup was made as a work of art to amaze and astonish and was never actually used. Only highly skilled craftsmen could produce such fragile, intricate forms, and much ivory, an extremely costly and rare material, must have been wasted before a perfect vessel was produced. So valued were these ivory objects that on at least one occasion in the 1630s, a German collection of them was seized as war booty by the invading Catholic army and carried off to Florence as the victor's reward.