New Book | Conchophilia

Posted in books by Editor on October 15, 2021

From Princeton UP:

Marisa Anne Bass, Anne Goldgar, Hanneke Grootenboer, and Claudia Swan, with contributions by Stephanie Dickey, Anna Grasskamp, and Róisín Watson, Conchophilia: Shells, Art, and Curiosity in Early Modern Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0691215761, £40 / $50.

Among nature’s most artful creations, shells have long inspired the curiosity and passion of artisans, artists, collectors, and thinkers. Conchophilia delves into the intimate relationship between shells and people, offering an unprecedented account of the early modern era, when the influx of exotic shells to Europe fueled their study and representation as never before. From elaborate nautilus cups and shell-encrusted grottoes to delicate miniatures, this richly illustrated book reveals how the love of shells intersected not only with the rise of natural history and global trade but also with philosophical inquiry, issues of race and gender, and the ascent of art-historical connoisseurship.

Shells circulated at the nexus of commerce and intellectual pursuit, suggesting new ways of thinking about relationships between Europe and the rest of the world. The authors focus on northern Europe, where the interest and trade in shells had its greatest impact on the visual arts. They consider how shells were perceived as exotic objects, the role of shells in courtly collections, their place in still-life tableaus, and the connections between their forms and those of the human body. They examine how artists gilded, carved, etched, and inked shells to evoke the permeable boundary between art and nature. These interactions with shells shaped the ways that early modern individuals perceived their relation to the natural world, and their endeavors in art and the acquisition of knowledge. Spanning painting and print to architecture and the decorative arts, Conchophilia uncovers the fascinating ways that shells were circulated, depicted, collected, and valued during a time of remarkable global change.

Marisa Anne Bass is Professor of Northern European Art, 1400–1700 at Yale University. Her books include Insect Artifice and Jan Gossart and the Invention of Netherlandish Antiquity. Anne Goldgar is the Garrett and Anne Van Hunnick Professor of European History at the University of Southern California. Her books include Tulipmania and Impolite Learning. Hanneke Grootenboer is Professor of the History of Art and Chair of the department at Radboud University Nijmegen. Her books include Treasuring the Gaze and The Pensive Image. Claudia Swan is the Mark S. Weil Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis. Her books include Art, Science, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Holland and Rarities of These Lands.


Anne Goldgar — Introduction: For the Love of Shells

Part I: Surface Matters
1  Claudia Swan — The Nature of Exotic Shells
2  Anna Grasskamp — Shells, Bodies, and the Collector’s Cabinet

Part II: Microworlds of Thought
3  Marisa Anne Bass — Shell Life, or the Unstill Life of Shells
4  Hanneke Grootenboer — Thinking with Shells in Petronella Oortman’s Dollhouse

Part III: The Multiple Experienced
5  Róisín Watson — Shells and Grottoes in Early Modern Germany
6  Stephanie S. Dickey — Shells, Prints, and the Discerning Eye

Illustration Credits

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