MUSEUMS AND CURIOSITIES

John Tradescant, the Younger travelled to Virginia, North America in 1637-8 to “gather up all raritye of flowers, plants and shells” to add to a growing collection of curios which had been started by his father. The portrait of him and his neighbour, Roger Friend also highlights a collection of exotic shells. Another portrait is framed with an oval wreath of flowers, vegetables and shells. In 1659 he signed a Deed of Gift which would transfer his collection to Elias Ashmole and the University of Oxford. This display of a Collection of Curios within a public space is one of the world’s earliest museums.   Included in collection is a rare early 17th century North American, King of Virginia Mantle embroidered with cowries in the shape of wolves and deities. Other items, involving shells, include cameos depicting Classical Gods and engraved nautilus shells.

This small count museum of shells and curios was built in 1915 by Norfolk’s leading philanthropist, Sir Alfred Jodrell. He was a considerable public benefactor restoring much of the village of Glandford and its churches. The museum’s collection of shells covers a period of six decades.

Peter Coke was a professional Actor, Antique Dealer, Shell Artist . During visits to Barbados he was able to collect exotic shells which he began to make into decorative displays during his retirement to Sharrington, North Norfolk. He exhibited his work in London and continued with his shell sculptures until his death in July 2008 at the age of 95. The Shell Gallery was established at Sheringham, shortly afterwards to display over 100 shell shell-art creations, all the work of Peter Coke.

Within the British Museum are scores of artefacts relating to the depiction of Venus and Aphrodite. Memorable images occur on the Portland Vase (15BC- AD25), the Marble statue of the Venus of the Capitoline(2nd century AD), and Lely’s “Crouching Venus” (1st- 2nd AD). “The Goddess of Fortune” (1500-1510) by Giovanni Della forms part of the Rothschild – Waddesdon Collection bequeathed to the museum. A 17th-century Carved Nautilus Shell can be seen in the Hans Sloan Collection of Curios. A rare marble Spider Conch shell can be seen from the Athenian Acropolis (350-325BC)

Founded in 1824 the National Gallery of London houses over 2,300 paintings from the mid 13th century-1900. The present Neo-Classical building was designed by William Wilkins between 1832-38. In our search for portrayals of Venus and the Shell as a symbolic metaphor and decorative object, we discovered 20 relevant paintings. Highlights were:

  • Venus and Mars. c 1485. Sandro Botticelli

  • Venus and Adonis. 1555. Workshop of Titian.

  • The Birth of Venus. 1632. Peter Paul Rubens. A design for a silver basin depicts Venus wringing her hair while shells enliven the oval border.

  • Venus and Cupid. 1691. Pierre Mignard. Of particular interest are the exotic shells embellishing the foreground and cupid offering a nautilus shell filled with pearls to his mother, Venus.

  • The Toilet of Venus. 1647. Diego Velazquez.

  • Flowers in a Vase with Shells. 1663. Balthasar van der Ast.

Cirencester or Corinium was the 2nd largest town in Roman Britain. The Corinium Museum presents the Kingscote Venus Floor mosaic( 4th century AD) which was excavated from the remains of a Roman Villa near Dursley, Gloucestershire. Venus is the centrepiece holding a mirror and wearing a crown and shell necklace. At the base are two mosaics of dolphins.

The Kingscote Wall Plaster( 3rdcentury AD) was recovered from the same room as the Venus floor mosaic. It was reconstructed from thousands of fragments. The painting is believed to represent Venus, Cupid and Mars.

The Hunting Dogs Mosaic( 2nd century AD) was excavated from the ruins of a Roman Villa in Dyer Street, Cirencester. It features the head of Neptune, sea gods and marine life.

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