Nautilus Cup

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or South German
Nautilus Cup, 1575/1625
Shell, gilt bronze, copper, silver, and semiprecious gems
12 1/2 × 7 1/2 × 3 3/4 in. (31.75 × 19.05 × 9.53 cm)
Purchase, with funds from Donald and Donna Baumgartner M2002.170
Photo credit: John Nienhuis
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Produced throughout Europe, nautilus cups were an extremely desirable blend of superb craftsmanship in combination with one of nature’s most admired creations. Nautilus shells from the Pacific and Indian oceans were revered since antiquity for their iridescence, geometrical precision, and the romantic notion that they contained miraculous powers. Renaissance and Baroque goldsmiths skillfully enhanced these treasured objects with exquisite and protective mounts. This magnificent piece is framed in gilt bronze and copper ornamented with semiprecious gems. In harmony with the nautical motif, Neptune rides a jewel-eyed sea-monster on the top of the vessel. Tritonesses blowing conch shell horns flank the sides and a laboring Hercules struggles to support the entire vessel. The foot of the cup is an ornately designed turtle that appropriately symbolizes the New World.

This information is subject to change as the result of ongoing research.