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  • Place of origin:

    Utrecht, Holland (made)

  • Date:

    1613-1614 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    van der Kemp, Nicolaas (goldsmith)

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Silver, room 69, case 4

Seventeenth-century artists and collectors regarded the nautilus as one of Nature's masterpieces and as a result nautilus shells were often given elaborate and precious mounts. These mounts often transformed the shell into a decorative cup, which showcased both the pearly beauty of the nautilus and the skill of the goldsmith's art. The shells were imported from Indonesia (Ambon Island) by Dutch traders from 1609 onwards, and therefore Dutch goldsmiths became particularly associated with this type of work in the seventeenth century. This cup was probably intended for display rather than for use, and may have been kept with other elaborately-mounted natural specimens in a special room reserved for the purpose. The kneeling figure carrying a trident, the rim, and the three mounts attached to the rim are all much later replacements.

Physical description

[cup] Nautilus shell with scrolls carved in relief in front, mounted in silver gilt, on a circular stem and foot, chased with fish in medallions, fruit between, three projecting scrolls on the stem and pendants between each; on the top is a figure of Neptune holding a trident.

Place of Origin

Utrecht, Holland (made)


1613-1614 (made)


van der Kemp, Nicolaas (goldsmith)

Marks and inscriptions

[cup] A lion fess in a shield-shaped punch
[cup] A shield with a bend.
[cup] Letter 'S' in a shield-shaped punch.


[cup] Height: 30.2 cm, Width: 19 cm maximum shell width, Diameter: 10 cm, Diameter: 10.5 cm diameter of base, Weight: 523.3 g

Object history note

[cup] Purchased by the Museum in 1858 for 40 pounds. It was originally dated around 1580.

The nautilus shell, its outer layers stripped away, was carved by Chinese craftsmen for export to Europe. Such shells were often mounted, as here, and Dutch goldsmiths were particularly associated with this type of work after 1609, when an important source of the shells, the Island of Ambon (Indonesia) became a Dutch trading post. This example has been restored in the nineteenth century: the triton figure, rim- and strap-mounts are replacements.

Descriptive line

Nautilus shell mounted in silver gilt, Dutch (Utrecht), 1613, Nicolaas van der Kemp, with nineteenth-century additions.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Tait, Hugh. Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum, III: The 'Curiosities'. 3 vols. London: British Museum Press, 1986-1991. ISBN (vol. III): 0714105252.
See Tait's comments on the V&A cup on p. 94.
Citroen, Karel. Dutch Goldsmiths' and Silversmiths' marks and names prior to 1812. Leiden: Primavera Pers, 1993, ISBN 90743100709.
Voet, Elias. Nederlandse gould- en zilvermerken. 'S-Gravenhage, Martinus Nijhoff, 1975
Woldbye, V. (transl. P.S. Falla). Shells and the Decorative Arts. Apollo. Sept. 1984, vol. 120, no. 271. pp. 156-161.
Hayward, J. F. Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the Triumph of Mannerism 1540-1620. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1976.
See p. 289.
Tait, Hugh. Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 3 vols, London: British Museum Press, 1986-1991. vol. III: The 'Curiosities'. ISBN 0714105252 (vol. 3).
See catalogue entry 6, 'The Infant Hercules nautilus-shell standing-cup', pp. 68-86, which includes a discussion of the Chinese export trade in carved shells.
See catalogue entry 7, 'The 'combat of sea-monsters' nautilus-shell standing-cup' for reference to V&A 4869-1858 (p.94).


Silver; Shell


Carving; Gilding; Casting; Chasing

Subjects depicted

Neptune; Trident



Collection code


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