Monday, August 5, 2013
Exploring Works on Display: Small Wonders
Precious (red) coral, Sardinia, undated, private collection, photo: Greg Davies
Precious (red) coral, such as the piece displayed in this exhibition, was considered a natural curiosity in the age of the Baroque and it was often displayed in the ‘wonder cabinets’ (wunderkammern) of collectors. According to myth precious coral was said to have grown from the blood of Medusa when Perseus set her severed head by a shoreline. As the blood trickled to the seaweed growing at the water's edge the plants were transformed into red coral, thus becoming 'stone'.
Natural wonders were identified as clever ‘jokes of nature’ (lusus naturae) by the Roman historian Pliny. During the 17th century artists would often attempt to rival nature’s ingenuity. Nautilus shells, narwhal tusks and other wonders could be transformed into elaborate cups and decorative objects through the artistry of the goldsmith and jeweler, resulting in works made even more marvelous by human invention.1
1Jan Vermeyen’s Narwalhornbecher in the collections of the Kunstkammer Wien (1600-1605, Inv. No.: KK_1113, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) is an excellent example of the rather more rare narwhal horn cup.
Posted by Greg Davies at 9:03 PM