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The nautilus shell cup in the Walters Art Museum’s Cabinet of Wonders is a prime example of Baroque art.  While the artist is unknown, it is assumed to be Dutch in origin and to have been created roughly around 1630.  The piece stands at 8 11/16 inches in height.  The materials used in the manufacture of this cup are the very prominent nautilus shell, a product of the booming trade of the Dutch East India Company, and fine gold and silver metalwork.  The stand of the cup features the mythical Greek figure Atlas with the nautilus shell serving in place of the world or heavens he holds up.  The delicate and decorative metalwork is highly suggestive of the Baroque style. (57.989)

Nautilus Cup, Dutch, ca. 1630. Nautlus shell guilded on silver mounts. 8 11/16 inches. http://art.thewalters.org/detail/16751/nautilus-cup/.

Nautilus Cup, Dutch, ca. 1630. Nautlus shell guilded on silver mounts. 8 11/16 inches.
http://art.thewalters.org/detail/16751/nautilus-cup/.

Nautilus shells first became a popular commodity in the 1500s and were brought over through trade from the Indo-Pacific Ocean.  The spiral structure of the chambered shell added to its beauty and made it all the more popular among Europeans who believed it had mathematical and spiritual significance.  German nautilus cups in particular became renowned for their demonstration of artistic skill and beauty.  Nautilus cups became one of the most universally recognized symbols of wealth and opulence in Baroque Europe.  They were a popular feature in “cabinets of curiosities,” European collections of all things rare and exotic meant to demonstrate their owners wealth and status.  The value of nautilus cups also made them a common feature in still life paintings. (Schmidt)

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