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Interdisciplinary and Other CFPs for RSA 2018 New Orleans
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Conchophilia: Shells as Exotica in the Early Modern World

Posted By Marisa A. Bass, Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Amidst the extraordinary efflorescence of commerce and culture in early modernity, shells were objects of particular curiosity and value. Often hard to come by and always expensive, they participated in one of the period’s signal developments: the passion for rare and unusual objects of distant or mysterious origin. 

This session singles out the shell among other popular exotica, which ranged from bezoar stones and feathers to lacquerware and textiles—from naturalia and artificilia to some combination thereof. Shells were intrinsically prized, but they were also transformed into elaborate drinking vessels, their surfaces manipulated with virtuosic relief, engraving, and chemical processes. Indeed, shells were simultaneous subjects of intellectual inquiry and natural history, their origins linked to fossils and the Flood, and their forms studied for a mathematical complexity that aligned them with the wonders of divine creation. Their representation in innumerable contemporary paintings and prints—from still lifes to depictions of collector’s cabinets—further attests to their manifold significance.   

We invite papers that address any aspect of shell crafting, collecting, study, and/or representation from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Especially welcome are proposals that consider how shells and their complex biographies embody the practices, social configurations, and politics of early modern connoisseurship; that query the extent to which the topos of play between art and nature is sufficient for describing nautilus cups and other such combinatory creations; or that address the archeology of shells in terms of materiality, handling, and the historical record.

Please send a brief abstract (no more than 150 words), and a brief curriculum vitae (300-word maximum in outline form) to Marisa Bass (, Anne Goldgar (, Hanneke Grootenboer (, and Claudia Swan ( Anne by Wednesday, May 31, 2017.

Tags:  collecting  collecting culture  commerce  early modern art  exotica  fossils  Italy  kunstkammers  natural history  nautilus cups  Netherlandish  Netherlands  Renaissance art  science  shells  still life  wonder 

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