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This is an example of the few entirely ‘shell still-life’ oil-paintings. It was made by Balthasar van der Ast and is dated 1630–1650, during his Delft period [1]. This painting is in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum [2].


Although the painting is entitled “Sea shells” (and most of them are), there are some land shells. They are at the lower right-hand margin. One is a dorsal view of a whitish colour form of Liguus fasciatus (Müller, 1774), a species occurring on Cuba. The spiral colour band at the periphery is crossed by a varix, an old apertural lip at which the growth was halted, while the animal completed its shell at a later stage.


Two others, seemingly identical, are slightly to the left and may only partly be seen, one showing the aperture from below, one in dorsal view. They superficially look identical but they are not. Only the one in dorsal view is a land snail. Although the axial black-and-white, dazzling streaks, the impression below the suture, and the reddish spire all seem typical of Achatina achatina (Linnaeus, 1758), the species identification remains doubtful. This is a West African genus.

Both Achatina and Liguus shells could have been brought to the Netherlands through the West Indian Company, who traded goods from West Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean.

I am grateful to my colleagues Dolf van Bruggen and Ton de Winter for the identification of the achatinid, and to Ana Cox of the Phoenix Art Museum for supplying the pictures.

[1] http://explore.rkd.nl/explore/artists/2800.
[2] PAM, inv. 1964.250. [on special request the full caption information is here given: Balthasar van der Ast
Sea Shells
oil on panel
21 3/4 x 30 1/4 in. (55.2 x 76.8 cm)
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Donald D. Harrington]