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This painting, from the collection of the National Gallery in London, was the start of this whole expedition of snails in art. It made me aware that land shells had been pictured not only in malacological books and papers, but also had been used by artists long before they had been given a name by scientists.


Balthasar van der Ast was born in Middelburg in 1593/1594, started to paint still-lives in the studio of his brother-in-law Ambrosius Bosschaert (I), worked in Utrecht 1619-1632, and moved then to Delft where he died in 1657. This painting was made in his Utrecht period ca. 1630. It is an oil-painting still-life of different flowers, with some insects and three shells. Two of these shells are sea shells (Conus), but the shell at left seen in a dorsal view is a specimen of the land snail Liguus virgineus (L., 1758). This species occurs on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and the shell was probably brought to Holland by the West Indian Trading Company, established 1612. [3]

[1] NGL, inv. NG6593. http://bit.ly/1ewX2dN (11.i.2014).
[2] RKD artists, http://bit.ly/1m0aSG9 (11.i.2014).
[3] More on this in a forthcoming paper, entitled ‘From a ‘domestic commodity’ to a ‘secret of trade’: snails and shells of land molluscs in early (mainly 16th and 17th century) visual arts’.