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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Nautilus Cup

Flemish or South German Nautilus Cup, 1575/1625 Shell, gilt bronze, copper, silver, and semiprecious gems 12 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. (31.75 x 19.05 x 9.53 cm) Purchase, with funds from Donald and Donna Baumgartner M2002.170 Photo credit John Nienhuis
Flemish
or South German,
Nautilus Cup, 1575/1625.
Shell, gilt bronze, copper, silver, and semiprecious gems;
12 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. Purchase, with funds from Donald and Donna Baumgartner, M2002.170.
Photo credit John Nienhuis.

At first glance, the Museum’s stunning Nautilus Cup looks like an impractical way to drink.  Tankards and beakers, which are also on display in the Museum’s Gallery #2, make sensible drinking vessels. In comparison the nautilus cup, a chambered nautilus shell mounted with elaborate metal work, perhaps could function as a drinking vessel, but seems more convincing as an aesthetic object.

Because it is gorgeous.

Would anyone use this stunning object to serve beverages? If not, why would anyone have this kind of odd-shaped cup? What did it mean?

In directly combing man’s art with God’s nature, a nautilus cup was the type of treasure that would have been housed in a Renaissance Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer were privately-owned collections that are considered the predecessor of the modern museum. German for “room of wonder” or “cabinet of curiosities,” Wunderkammer developed in mid-16th-century Europe and celebrated man-made arts and also natural arts, with minerals, ivory, ostrich eggs, coconut shells, nautilus shells, and other exotic objects.

The Museum’s own American Galleries on the Lower Level are installed as a type of Wunderkammer.