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Nautilus Shell Cup: M/P.4-1938

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 17 (Flower)


Nautilus Shell Cup


Silversmith: Unidentified




Nautilus shell and silver-gilt; the shell engraved with Chinese scenes and mounted with silver-gilt aquatic emblems.

Nautilus shell and silver-gilt. The shell is engraved with two Chinese scenes on each side of the body, and with ornamental patterns of scalework, diaperwork and brickwork. It has been badly damaged and repaired. The shell is held by four staps; those at the sides are cast as caryatids, whilst the strap at the front is cast as a young warrior, and that at the back as a bearded man. They support the rim mount, which has a cut border, and is applied with winged angels heads, flowers and snails. At the top, over the curve of the shell, is a model of a lobster or crayfish. At the front is a wide everted rim, which is engraved with a border of flowers and scrolling foliage. The shell rests on a calyx with cut border. This is held aloft by a model of Neptune riding a dolphin. The slightly domed over foot is embossed and chased with sea monsters and waves. The foot ring is cast with an egg, tongue and dart border. The wooden box (A) has two hinged half lids and is fitted with cream calf lining.


History note: Listed in Mr Cunliffe's catalogue as being bought at Phillips

Legal notes

L.D. Cunliffe Bequest, 1937

Measurements and weight

Height: 24.4 cm
Height: 9⅝ in
Length: 19 cm
Length: 7½ in
Width: 10.8 cm
Width: 4¼ in

Place(s) associated

  • London ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1938-02-15) by Cunliffe, Leonard Daneham


16th Century, Late
Elizabeth I
Circa 1585 CE - 1586 CE


Label text from the exhibition ‘Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800’, on display at The Fitzwilliam Museum from 26 November 2019 until 31 August 2020:This fantastical nautilus shell cup is a truly global product. It was constructed in Elizabethan London, likely by an Antwerp silversmith, using a south-east Asian shell, engraved in China, mounted in precious silver- gilt fittings. Its stem and foot are shaped as Neptune riding a dolphin writhing in a sea filled with marine life, while a giant crayfish attempts to crawl inside the back of the shell bowl, making the object rather terrifying to pick up, let alone drink from.

The maker's mark of possibly 'TK' conjoined has not been identified. It was previously interpreted as possibly 'TEo' in monogram, for Thomas Heard (see Jacksons, Ian Pickford, p. 98), but further comparison reveals that this is unlikely.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Bowl Of Cup composed of nautilus shell
Surface Of Mounts composed of gold
Mount composed of silver

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: FITZW. / MUS
  • Location: On the underside of the base
  • Method of creation: Printed on paper and glued to the surface
  • Type: Label of ownership

Inscription present: leopard's head crowned

  • Location: On the upper surface of the foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

Inscription present: lion passant

  • Location: On the upper surface of the foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark
  • Text: H
  • Location: On the upper surface of the foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

Inscription present: probably TK in monogram

  • Location: On the upper surface of the foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Maker's mark

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: M/P.4-1938
Primary reference Number: 118322
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 7 November 2022 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Nautilus Shell Cup" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-25 02:39:43

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{{cite web|url= |title=Nautilus Shell Cup |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-04-25 02:39:43|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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