Dataset last updated 5/05/21.
Welcome to the Nautilus Catalogue, a database aiming to include all of the nautilus shells that have been made into artistic objects by the transformation of the shell or addition of a framing mount. Mounted nautilus shells are fascinating and strange objects that cross time and geography. They were avidly collected by Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who appreciated their rarity, exoticism, mysterious biology, logarithmic form, and their beauty. To me, they are gloriously tacky and sometimes silly, and also evidence of the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world, forged through trade and colonialism.
The mounted nautilus is also a very difficult subject to study, with many objects scattered across many collections, mostly made by unnamed artists, and dates and locations are also unclear. Some have been in the same collection since the sixteenth century but others have come on the market and then disappeared into private collections or have maybe been lost. A few of them have been carefully studied, while others are barely known.
In order to make sense of all of this, I have been building a dataset of mounted nautilus shells over the past decade, with the hope that I can create some order out of the many unknowns, and build a clearer understanding of this strange object type. My starting point was the invaluable catalogue published by Hanns-Ulrich Mette in 1995, which includes 314 objects, carefully organized by mount type and including descriptions and assessments of each, many photographs, and also essays. This book is difficult to access, as it is out of print and in German, and I know I have not always understood his descriptions perfectly. Mette's catalogue is not complete, and so far I've identified a further 44 objects to add to the dataset. My search for mounted nautilus shells is not complete: as new objects are added to online collection catalogues, when I come across one while visiting a museum, I add it to this dataset, and I hope that publishing this catalogue-in-progress on-line means that visitors to this site will add more objects over time.
I'm an art historian, independent scholar, and specialist in the early modern Dutch Republic and the Dutch empire abroad. I earned my PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 2012. In addition to nautilus art, I work on vernacular architecture (urban planning and domestic architecture), still life painting, and the global trade of textiles. I have expanded into the digital humanities since I finished my PhD, primarily creating datasets out of art historical and archival data, and I also work with data visualization, 3D modelling, and on-line publication. I have taught art history and digital humanities, directed an undergraduate research program, freelance copyedited and indexed, and I currently work in grants management, training, and finances at Hope College in Holland, MI, USA.
marselykehoe at gmail dot com
on twitter @marselykehoe
The data in this catalogue is organized in a spreadsheet (available here as csv), which I import to this site's Omeka CMS (content management system). As data is added and updated in that spreadsheet, I will regularly re-import the dataset and the link above. This means that pages may not have persistent urls (uniform record locators) -- if you want to bookmark or use a link to an item, be sure to note the item's catalogue number/identifier (looks like MN_248), which will not change, so you can return to the same item in the future.
Each item in the database has been assigned a permanent catalogue number (or identifier), which looks like MN_001, standing for Mette Nautilus (catalogue number)_### -- these match Hanns-Ulrich's 1995 catalogue and are numbered 001-313. Additions to the catalogue begin with KN_500, for Kehoe Nautilus (catalogue number)_###. I skipped the 400s to make it clear these were additions. There are a few oddballs (MN_125a, MN_291a, and the missing entry MN_283) where there were ambiguities in the catalogue, and some KN numbers may be retired if they prove to be duplicates of MN numbers as further information becomes available to me (these will be noted in that KN number entry). If you want to bookmark or use a link to an item, be sure to note the item's catalogue number so you can return to the same item in the future (the url may change with updates to the site).
The images on this site aren't the best, for a variety of reasons. As an art historian, trained to create precisely focused and informative photographs and scans in the visual resources collection of my graduate program, this bothers me terribly, so I must apologize! A big motivator to make this site was connecting the images to the data, which is surprisingly difficult to do offline with spreadsheet software. I don't have images for every item in the collection. Those that I have are, at worst, screenshots of serially-degraded digital scans of early 20th century published photographs. At best, they are professional digital photography by the owning museum hosted by their website, and downloaded by me. You'll probably notice that my own photos aren't great -- due to low lit museum spaces, reflections on display cases, and my lack of equipment and skills.
I have only included one image per item, because the Omeka CMS (content management system) I'm using to publish the catalogue is set up for a single object per entry, so to add in images from multiple sources gets really messy really quickly since I want to clearly cite my sources. My priorities for posting images are in this order: first my own photos, images posted in museum collections on-line, scanned images from Mette 1995, and then scanned images from older publications. This means I'm not always posting the best image, instead I've made my decisions based on image rights concerns. In the cases where these are my own photos (identified with my initials, MLK), I am not violating any image right holders this way (as they are my images; and here I've shared them all with a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. When the images are sourced from on-line museum collections, I've also included the link to the museum page; and when the images are scanned from a publication, I provide an abbreviated citation (full citations can be found on the Bibliography page). I'm currently seeking permission to use these linked and scanned images, and until then am hoping my good faith and fair use supports my posting of these images.
Identifying artists, dates, and locations
In art history, basic questions about an object -- who made it, when, where -- are essential for understanding an object in its historical and cultural context and for asking larger, and in my opinion, more interesting, questions. If I want to understand the nautilus cup and what it might say about Dutch global connections in the seventeenth century, I need to know that these objects have a connection to the Netherlands, and to the seventeenth century. However, what is perhaps most challenging about these objects is that for many mounts, and most shells, the artist is anonymous, and we don't know where or when they were worked. This is also complicated by the possibility that there may be multiple artists who worked on a single mounted nautilus shell: certainly the person who worked on the mount and the shell are different individuals, but also both the mount and the shell could have been worked in several stages by multiple hands.
In this database, where we do have this kind of information, I have indicated how we know in parentheses after the piece of information. In the clearest cases, the metalworkers can be identified by marks on the objects, stamps that indicate the artist, year (or date range), and city. These were subject to the local guild regulations, and can be deciphered in many cases by archival research. When this is the case, I indicate that the information is known through metal marks. Some of the nautilus shells have been engraved with the signature of the artist, which should be straightforward but isn't always: the best known nautilus-working family, Amsterdam's Bellekins, are inconsistent in the spelling of the name, and a J. can mean either Jean or Jan, who are two different people. There's also the possibility of a forged signature.
For other objects without these indicators of the maker, art historians, curators, and object owners have made educated guesses about who, when, and where these objects were made. These I've identified as 'attributed.' Comparison to identified objects, consideration of context (if the shell engraver includes a commemorative portrait of an identified individual, an inscription, or references a known print, the shell must have been worked the source), and the commentary of prior scholars provide attributions, and it can be difficult to assess the accuracy of these attributions. Hanns-Ulrich Mette carefully discusses these attributions, which I reproduce here, and collections often provide their own identifications. Some assumptions have been made, such as that the shell must have been chosen and worked before the mount is made, because the shell can vary in size and the shapes are irregular -- a shell that was later replaced (perhaps because of a broken original) can often be noted by a bad fit with the mount or alterations made to the mount, or if there is textual or visual evidence of a repair.
Some of the dates are precise, many are estimated (by metal mark or attribution), and some are quite broad. I've provided the most precise date I can in the date field. I'm considering adding a tag for century or period so this is more searchable.
From the early modern period to today, the geographies represented in this database have changed, and many places have different names in different languages. For the sake of clarity, I use English-language place names and I am as specific as possible, to the level of city ideally. I've placed these cities in countries that align as much as possible with their current, twenty-first century geography, but it gets tricky. The biggest problem is probably the 17th century German principalities, which were shifting for centuries, often under terrible conflict which I don't dismiss lightly, so for instance Breslau (Wroklaw) is in modern-day Poland and Strasbourg is in France, yet in the 17th century I call this Germany for brevity. The second major issue is the Netherlands, which in the early modern period were united under Spanish Habsburg rule until the last quarter of the 16th century, when they split into the North Netherlands (becoming the Dutch Republic and later the Kingdom of the Netherlands) and the South Netherlands (at first remaining under Spain, and later becoming Belgium). The adjective 'Netherlandish' is therefore very fuzzy, and my preference has been to call this N/S Netherlands when it's unclear, so that today's Netherlands doesn't get 'credit' for objects produced in what is now Belgium. I hope the user will forgive me for choosing brevity when accuracy is not possible.
Call for Contributions
This is meant to be a living database of nautilus art, and I accept that what I've produced has flaws, mistakes, and is incomplete. The best research is collaborative research, where individuals with varying expertise and interest come together to mutually consider a subject, to check each other's blind spots and contribute new perspectives. Though removed in time, I consider Hanns-Ulrich Mette, whose catalogue provided so much of this material, a collaborator, and I seek to build relationships with you, the users of this site and my fellow nautilus scholars. I have tagged all the objects for which I have no image as 'Seeking Image,' and 'Seeking information' when my entry is sparse, in hopes that users will share any additional information. I'm also hopeful that museum visitors, curators, and collectors will contribute new items to this database, and offer helpful corrections and suggestions -- any generous contributions will be attributed to the submitter. If you have any material or information to share, please contact me at marselykehoe at gmail dot com.
This project has been years in the making and many have contributed to my intellectual development (who I thank in my traditional publications). Here, I want to specifically thank those who made this catalogue possible: Hanns-Ulrich Mette, who I don't know, but whose catalogue is the foundation of my dataset. The organizers, educators, and my fellow students at the 2015 Beyond the Digitized Slide Library, A Digital Art History Institute at UCLA and the Getty, where I learned Omeka, dataset development, and many other things. My students in Hope College's Mellon Scholars Program who were willing to dig into weird nautilus cups with me (as data!) and encouraged me and made me laugh. Several curators have been very generous with access and information as I developed pieces of this dataset: Matthew Winterbottom of the Ashmoleon, Linda Roth of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Inger Olovsson of the Skokloster Castle Collection, and Peter Kristiansen of the Royal Danish Collection at Rosenborg Castle. As this catalogue continues to grow and develop, I look forward to future conversations with curators and other contributors. And to my fellow digital humanists and digital art historians who are currently beta-testing and encouraging this project, especially Jacob Esselstrom, Carrie Anderson, Jojo Karlin, and Tori Longfield, thank you!
To cite this website:
The full site:
Marsely Kehoe, Nautilus Catalogue, http://www.marselykehoe.org/nautilus, last updated 5 May 2021.
A specific page on the site (some version of):
Marsely Kehoe, "Nautilus Pitcher, MN_312," Nautilus Catalogue, http://www.marselykehoe.org/nautilus/items/show/753, accessed [insert date].