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This painting, found in the RKD database as an old black and white reproduction and attributed to an anonymous artist [1], is in the Johnsom Museum of Art, Ithaca, and now attributed to Otto Marseus van Schrieck. According to the museum it was made ca. 1670, thus during his Amsterdam period. “Born in Nijmegen, in the [eastern] center of the Netherlands, Marseus van Schrieck worked in Florence and Rome between 1648 and 1663, intermittently in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He invented the genre of sottobosco, or “forest floor” painting, which encouraged viewers to lower their gaze to ground level and consider the domain of mushrooms, insects, slugs, snails, and small reptiles. His nose-to-the-ground focus earned him the nickname “The Snuffler,” and he kept a vivarium of insects, amphibians, and reptiles to study for his paintings. Marseus van Schrieck also innovated in painting technique, sometimes impressing butterfly wings into the wet paint to add naturalistic texture.
This late work combines the artist’s interest in crawling things with a monumental study of a thistle that both dominates the canvas and serves as the armature for a host of small animal species.
At a time when science and art were not as strictly delineated as they are today, this genre of painting flourished during a period of waning acceptance of abiogenetic theories which dictated that small ground-dwelling creatures spontaneously generated in the mud and muck of the earth excited by the sun’s rays. The development of the microscope by Dutch tradesman and lens-grinder Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was soon to invalidate this theory, shifting the frontier of the discussion to smaller organisms like protozoa that could be studied for the first time” [2].


It was only when I found this painting on the museum site, and was able to study it in more detail, that I found out it has three snails on it. Although the whole painting is quite dark, the most obvious snail is seen in the lower part, just left off the centre. This is clearly a Cepaea species, shown in top view.


At about the same height, but more to the right, a second snail may be seen. It is shown from the left side, and – although difficult to discern – seems to be rather elongate. However, given the colour pattern it may possibly be a Cornu species.


Finally, a third snail can be seen, resting on a thristle leaf and partly shown from below. Probably also a Cornu specimen.


[1] http://explore.rkd.nl/explore/images/53706.
[2] JMA, inv. 60.195. http://museum.cornell.edu/collections/view/still-life-with-thistle.html