Toggle mobile menu visibility

brass enamel shell cup

Accession Number NWHCM : 1938.149.2


Shell cup with brass and enamel mounts; brass and enamel foot; Surrey enamel type; part of Oxnead collection

Read Morebrass enamel shell cup

This splendid mounted shell belonged to the Paston family of Oxnead Hall, and is portrayed in the painting in Norwich Castle's collection, The Paston Treasure. In the seventeenth century it was very fashionable to mount exotic shells in precious metal mounts. Like coconuts, tropical shells were fascinating objects newly available in Europe as a result of increasing foreign trade and colonial activity. Because of their rarity and beauty they were fashioned into works of art, and were collected in 'cabinets of curiosity'. These shell cups represented a harmony between the beauty of nature and the skill of man.

The combination of shell and mount seen here is particularly unusual. The mount is of gilded brass, enamelled with a pattern of little flowers, which was a speciality of one workshop in London. In the painting, the shell is a Strombus gigas, a species of conch found in the Caribbean. The shell we see today is a rarer specimen, the Brazilian Lobatus goliath. Either the original was broken, or the Pastons possessed two shells, one of each species, with this type of mount. The present cup and the one depicted in the painting could have constituted a pair.

Close comparison of the cup in the painting with the real object also shows that the artist has made life easier for himself by simplifying the enamelled flowers on the mount!

Creation Date 1625-1774
Material brass
Measurements 330 mm
Department Art-Decorative Art

Share this page

Facebook icon Twitter icon Email icon


Print icon