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Nautilus Shell Cup (work of art)

Artwork Info

second half of the 17th century
circa 1625-before 1701
9 1/4 inches (23.5 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the Camp-Younts Foundation and the John and Mary Camp Foundation

Object Number
Dutch European
Natural Substances
European to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • This cup would have been used on special occasions by wealthy Dutch people during the second half of the 17th century. 
  • The nautilus shell that was used to make this cup was taken from Indonesia and brought to the Netherlands by a powerful Dutch trade corporation.
  • Cornelis van Bellekin was a skilled sculptor and painter. This cup is made from carved and painted nautilus and marine oyster shells.

Learn More

Nautilus Shell Cup is an example of functional art. It serves a useful purpose. It also combines natural beauty with fine craftsmanship. Drinking vessels like this one were considered treasures to be admired. They were often used on special occasions by wealthy Dutch collectors. Many Dutch artists made nautilus cups in the 17th century. During this time the shells of the chambered nautilus shells were being imported from Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company. This company was one of the first international trade corporations. It shipped millions of tons of Indonesian goods (by boat) to other countries. The trading company brought wealth to the Netherlands. It did not equally benefit the people of Indonesia. The company’s main purposes were trade, exploration, and colonization. A variety of products imported from Indonesia can be seen in many Dutch still life paintings from the 17th century.

Cornelis van Bellekin was a sculptor and a painter. He removed this nautilus shell’s rough outer surface and used the smooth, white surface below it as his canvas. The artist decorated the shell (the main part of the cup) with carved and painted floral designs. He made the cup’s stem and foot from oyster shells that he carved and decorated with cupid figures, fruit, and grapevines. The grapevine may indicate that the cup was intended for drinking wine.

tags: change, environment, function, nature, trade, food

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers: 

  • Read an article about the artist and see one of his nautilus cups that was recently sold by Sotheby’s.
  • Watch a video about the connections between capitalism in the West and the Dutch East India company.
  • Explore a website dedicated to nautilus shells in Dutch art and see examples of nautilus shell cups in Dutch still life paintings.


Resources for Students:


  • Van Bulletin Nautilus Shell Cup 17th Century

    Nautilus Shell Cup

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