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Feast & Fast

The Art of Food in Europe, 1500 – 1800

22: Turbo shell

Turbo shell standing cup and cover with a boy standing on a turtle Turbo shells come from large sea snails living in warm tropical waters, often near coral, and were in great demand by European collectors. They were individually harvested – like pearls – by divers who risked their lives in deep waters, and then sold, by merchants, to specialised shell shops in the Dutch Republic.

In this virtuoso example, the polished shell has been skilfully converted into a drinking vessel by mounting it on a stem and foot, curiously formed as a naked boy standing on a turtle. It has a tightly fitting, lift-off cover to prevent poison from being introduced and unwanted matter from falling inside. The protective purpose of the cover is reinforced by the fact that it is crowned by a standing warrior. Its lack of wear suggests that it was primarily kept for display.

Probably Ernst Jansz. van Vianen (active 1604 – 47), Utrecht, Netherlands, possibly 1628

Turbo shell, silver gilt

C.B. Marlay Bequest (MAR.M.71 & A-1912)

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