Art 2 – Shells and stippling – due 12/4


Read the information on the following sites about sea shells – look at the history, the value, the trading, collecting, and even stealing of rare shells. Consider the differences in Western art and in Mesoamerican art.

Facts and details about shells

More facts and details about shells

shells in mesoamerican art

Comment on the 3 most interesting details about shells that you previously did not know.

When you think about shells in Dutch Baroque paintings, are shells a Christian symbol, a symbol of colonization and power, or simply a beautiful object? Or, are they all three?

Choose a painting which supports your ideas and discuss them in reference to the art work. Post a link to it also.

Will any of these ideas  change the way you will work on your stippled shells? Explain.

(and, just as a reference on stippling, there are some good ones on google images:  )


9 responses »

  1. I thought it was interesting that some people think that it is possible that Britain was able to claim Australia when competing against France because the French captain was looking at mollusks. I thought that was interesting, but I was under the impression that the Dutch were there first. I thought it was neat that the rarest shell, Sphaerocypraea incomparabilis, was thought to be extinct, but then found by people in Soviet Russia. It in interesting that one of the most sought after shells is the conus gloriamaris, because there are so many types of cone snail shells that look very similar, although they are no where near as rare. I primarily think of shells as homes for mollusks and as pretty objects. When I think of shells in religious paintings, I think of “The Baptism of Christ” by El Greco, from the 1600s.

    After looking at some of the shell drawings, I will make my shells a little more detailed and give them shadows.

  2. I found it interesting that a man bought and then destroyed a very valuable shell in order to preserve the worth of his other shell (of the same type). I thought it was neat that a mollusk’s life is almost entirely documented by its shell and that the consistency of its diet alters its shell’s pattern and color to such an extent. I also found it bizarre that someone would go as far as microwaving a shell, especially because the smell that would ensue. I think that, in Dutch Baroque paintings, a shell can symbolize Christianity, colonization and power, or beauty (or a combination). Shells played an important role in religious ceremonies, they greatly influenced colonization (and possessing shells signified wealth and status), and shells were and still are simply appreciated for their aesthetics. It therefore would follow that a painting could incorporate shells as a symbolic representation of any of the above. Here is an example of a painting that includes a shell as an object of both beauty and wealth/power. In this painting, the shell is portrayed as something beautiful based on the artist’s careful attention to the shell’s pattern and shape (as well as the surrounding butterfly and fruit assortment, which compliment/accentuate the shell’s beauty) and the golden goblet in the background reminds us of the wealth/power associated with shells. After looking at stippled shell drawings, I will pay special attention to the shadowing and intricate patterns on my shells. I liked the effect of the external shadows but I am not sure if I will be able to include shadows cast by my shells because of my drawing’s composition.

    • Yes, the history of shells sometimes reads like a Sherlock Holmes novel. Intrigue and crime follow the value of the shell, beauty, and art…..
      Good painting reference you share and nice interpretation of the attendant objects which reinforce the meaning.

  3. I thought it was really interesting that shell collecting was such a big deal in the 17th century. I never thought that shells were valued so much. I thought it was interesting and somewhat amusing that the high-class/wealthier people competed to be the first to discover new shells, and that many prominent historical figures, such as Catherine the Great of Russia were very serious shell-collectors. I also found it interesting that sea shells are used to supply certain materials. The article didn’t go into much depth about that, but it said that “Sea shells are used to supply lime, poultry feed, road building materials and are essential for some chemical processes.” I never knew that sea shells were used for much of anything besides collecting or using to make jewelry. Thirdly, I thought it was interesting that shells were used as currency, as well as other uses such as hair pipes by Native Americans and others. Overall, I just thought it was interesting how the articles show that shells have always been important to people in various ways, in a multitude of different uses. I think that shells in Dutch Baroque paintings could express christian symbols, symbols of colonization/power, and simply beauty – all of this depends both on the painting and the context of the shell in the painting, and the artists’ views. In times before modern advertising, paintings were a major outlet of propaganda. The usage of shells in paintings in Western art often uses shells to symbolize wealth, prosperity, and beauty. I also chose a painting by Balthasar van der Ast (,_Fruit,_Shells,_and_Insects_by_Balthasar_van_der_Ast-BMA.jpg), because he seemed to be one of the artists in the Dutch Baroque period who was especially interested in shells. He made many paintings that featured shells alongside baskets of fruit and flowers. These luxurious displays show affluence and beauty, two themes that shells have in Western Art. I don’t know if anything I learned will particularly change my current art, but knowing more about the significance of shells throughout human existence definitely gives me more respect and interest in the subject matter that we’re working with.

    On a side note, the images you posted for stippling references were very helpful. In particular, this one ( showed a very pretty way of shading (in my opinion), that I think I will incorporate into my own drawing.

    • I love the shells in the painting you chose. It’s a wonderful piece of art – any one of those many objects it includes is masterfully painted. My favorite part though it the trompe-l-oeil lizards and flower that spill out of the picture frame and overlap frame….what vivid illusionism!

  4. I think it’s really interesting to see the shells as growing and not as just something stagnant we have around. It definitely makes sense to use cowries as currency at that time, they can be small and easily distinguished, like current coins. I hadn’t thought of them having actual value though, like the metal in coins. But it seems that collecting shells was a big thing at one point. Which is kind of weird because shells have no actual point other than looking pretty on a bookcase I guess, unlike trading of silks and spices and other things. Even flowers look pretty AND smell nice and don’t collect dust. I also highly doubt that shells are the reason for Britain’s military success. “Surprisingly few taste good.” Is this really surprising? People eat shells? I guess people do use shells for things like sunglasses and other decorations.
    In the painting I found (, as well as others, shells are mixed with flowers, food, and insects. The difference between the two subjects signifies a colonization, kind of. It also can show that they really valued shells, as well as being very intricate subjects.
    I suppose it would make me think about the shells a little more, as I know more about their supposed value and how they are formed.

  5. In my opinion, sea shells are not only the protection of their soft body inside. But also a particular product of the high concentration of different kinds of salts from the sea. Sea shells’ lives are short, but their value never disappears. In ancient time, sea shells were used as currency for their beautiful colors. Also sea shells are not hardto find, they have all different kinds of shapes. So it will be a leisure-time activity. Shells in Dutch Baroque paintings are Christian symbol, a symbol of colonization and power, and simply a beautiful object . Because different people have different points of view, and different points of view make up distinctions of views on arts.,r:0,s:0,i:156

    In this picture, you can see different things with different modes and thoughts. You can regard this as a simple good-looking shell with a peaceful mode. But it turn to a battle ship or ufo if someone looks at it with a struggling mode.

  6. I thought it was interesting that shells were included in some of the oldest works of art. I also did not know that shells were used as poultry feed. I also found it interesting that shell collecting was especially popular in the 17th century.In Baroque’s paintings I see shells as being painted with the intention of representing something religious, However if i were him i would be more fascinated with the beauty of the objects.,r:30,s:0,i:182 This picture shows attention to detail and individuality of the shells. It compliments the different angles and textures. Hoever the crack down the middle of the painting seems like it must have some sort of significance religiously.

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