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Nautilus cup

Nautilus cup

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1557-1558 (hallmarked)
    1625-1675 (altered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Partridge, Affabel (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Parcel-gilt silver, the silver shell replacing the original nautilus

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, case 1

Object Type
This beautiful cup was originally made from a nautilus shell, but at some point the shell must have been damaged. It was replaced in the mid-17th century by a silver facsimile.

Shells from the sea mollusc Nautilus pompilius that lived in the Pacific and Indian oceans were valued for their rarity and beauty. Either in their natural state, or worked into elaborate objects, they were often found in the 'cabinets of curiosities' that contained the small treasures of a princely collection.

Design & Designing
Nautilus cups were particularly popular in Germany and The Netherlands, but they gradually became fashionable in England. This cup has London hallmarks, but the crisp quality of the decoration and in particular the basket ornament on the stem are characteristic of Antwerp, Belgium. It is possible that the cup was made by an 'alien' or foreign goldsmith based in London. Equally, the style may have spread through engraved prints and the cup been made by a court goldsmith such as Affabel Partridge (active 1550, died 1568).

Subjects Depicted
The decoration of nautilus cups often refers to the marine origins of the shell. In this case, the end of the bowl is shaped like the gaping jaws of a sea monster. The small figure of Jonah kneels over the lip. According to the Bible, Jonah, attempting to escape from God, was swallowed by a great fish and lived in its belly for three days and nights before repenting and gaining his release.

Physical description

Cup, Nautilus

Place of Origin

London (made)


1557-1558 (hallmarked)
1625-1675 (altered)


Partridge, Affabel (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Parcel-gilt silver, the silver shell replacing the original nautilus

Marks and inscriptions

Marked with a bird in a shaped shield


Height: 26.5 cm, Width: 18.5 cm maximum, Depth: 10.7 cm shell, Diameter: 12.5 cm base

Object history note

Once owned by the Trenchard family of Wolfeton House, Charminster, Dorset
Made in London; probably by Affabel Partridge (active 1550, died 1568)

Descriptive line

Silver, English

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

Cooper, John K. D. An assessment of Tudor Plate Design, 1530-1560. The Burlington Magazine, vol. 121, no. 915, June 1979. pp. 360-64.

Labels and date

British Galleries:

Aristocrats and wealthy merchants used decorative and expensive tableware to demonstrate their wealth and social status to guests. Splendid rarities, such as the pieces here, created lavish settings for a dessert of wine and sweetmeats. The weight and high quality of the silver mounts indicated the prestige associated with imported Chinese porcelain and other exotic materials. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Hallmarked for 1557 - 1558; possibly modified 1625 - 1675


Metalwork; Drinking; British Galleries


Metalwork Collection

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