This blog is devoted to old pictures of snails found in various sources, mainly Medieval manuscripts, and later engravings, drawings, and early printed books. Sometimes they are readily recognisable as land snails, rarely one may even make a guess about their generic or specific attribution. Sometimes they are just a (stylised) snail. And some cases do exist where the the illustration has been mis-interpreted as a snail.

Perhaps first how I ended up here anyway. Working on a manuscript on Cuban Liguus, the question arose if their murky taxonomy perhaps had been influenced by early pictures. This started off an iconographic search for old pictures of these often colour-full tree snails in shell books. Having finished the manuscript together with Luis Álvarez and Adrián González, I suddenly realised that I had seen a similar shell on a painting. Starting searching rather quickly revealed one on this oilpainting of Balthazar van der Ast, A Dutch painter who worked in the early 17th century in Utrecht and Delft, but was trained in Middelburg by his father-in-law Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder.

Questions came up: Was this the only example of a Liguus shell on a painting? If not, which other tropical species have been used? By whom, and when do they start appearing on painting? And where originated these paintings? To dig up answers more art historian expertise and data were needed. Found them in my collaborator Susan de Heer and at the Netherlands Institute of Art History, which has a huge archive of pictures (partly online) and a well-supplied library. Now the hunt was on, both on-line and off-line.

Besides art historical reflections (e.g. the symbolic meaning of a snail), not my expertise at all, I soon wondered about other questions: Have land shells in general been used by artists on paintings? On other works of (visual) arts? When did this start? Did they accurately picture a shell or snail, or were these merely generalised illustrations? Are there any patterns? If they seemed more accurately figured, what would be the best guess about their identification?

A whole different avenue besides my main research on Neotropical land snails opened up. Interesting enough to start to document these in a more or less systematic way.

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