Pouring jug

This pouring jug is a mother-of- pearl cup dating to the 17th century made from a Nautilus shell in the form of a snail.

Large Nautilus shaped shells like that of this 17th century cup were imported from the Middle Ages onwards all over Europe from the ports of Southern China where workshops specialised in decorating mother-of- pearl shells. Highly skilled goldsmiths took the art of mounting these Oceanic wonders into sophisticated gold plated silver mounts to the courts of Europe from the 16th century onwards.

The collection

The art work

This mother-of- pearl pouring jug is made from a snail shaped shell set into a valuable silver mount. Its round section base is elaborately decorated up to the rim of the shell with its elegant worked rim. The fascination for Nautilus Pompilius - this was its scientific name - began in the late 16th century and was probably linked to mathematical discoveries of the day linked precisely to the growth of its spiral whose logarithmic progression was called Spira Mirabilis by Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli.

In the early seventeenth century the Dutch East Indies Company’s trade with the Orient meant it was the first to import this type of precious object to the European market which, in the hands of decorative artisans and engravers, was turned into fine works of exotic art.