Shells: Magic and Science

November 23, 2013 - June 29, 2014
Galleries 315 and 316
Free Exhibition

Shells are common yet precious, abundant yet desirable—among the first things a child instinctively collects. From prehistoric shacks to the courts of Baroque Europe, their translucent texture and fantastical forms have been integrated into everyday objects, decoration, and an incredible variety of art.

They are also as central to modern studies of the natural world as the discovery of new lands, their perfection embodying—and ultimately resolving—the dilemma of creation and evolution. This importance is reflecting in the mania for shell collecting, particularly during the late 16th and early 17th centuries when nautilus and conches were mounted in precious metals, adorned with gems, and displayed in magnificent Wunderkammern—the “wonder rooms” or “cabinets of curiosities.”

This exhibition encompasses our passion for shells throughout the ages, gathering treasures from such Twin Cities institutions as the Wangensteen Historical Library, the James Ford Bell Library, the Bell Museum of Natural History, and the MIA itself. Together, they comprise an intriguing patrimony of prints and precious antique books on natural history, while testifying to the still-burning fever of shell-collecting.

Nautilus Shell Cup

Artist unknown, Northern Germany
Nautilus shell cup, c. 1660-1680
Nautilus shell, silver, parcel-gilt
Gift of funds from Mary Agnes and Al McQuinn 2011.28

From Thesaurus Animalium

Friedrich Ruysch
Dutch, 1637-1731
Tab. VI. Fig. I, II., from “Thesaurus Animalium,” 1710
Etching
The Minnich Collection, The Ethel Morrison Van DerLip Fund P.18,737

From Deliciae Naturae Selectae

George Wolfgang Knorr
German, 1705-1761
Plate B. II., from “Deliciae Naturae Selectae,” 1750-1772
Etching, hand-colored
The Minnich Collection, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund P.19,046