At first glance, the following selection of furniture may appear to have little in common, besides the shared country of origin and eighteenth century creation date. However, upon closer inspection, you will see each piece incorporates a carved shell. Today we will look at why the shell appears so frequently on eighteenth century English antiques and what it means.
The history of the use of shells in art dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. The shell was a sign of fertility and was associated with the goddess Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty (also Venus, the Roman version of the goddess).
One shell in particular, the scallop shell, became particularly prized because of its symmetry and pleasing arched form. Starting at this time, sea shells were collected and considered rare and beautiful objects of luxury.
The habit of collecting shells continued through the centuries and became particularly important during the seventeenth century when they would be displayed in cabinets of curiosities.
The shell emerged as an important symbol in the lexicon of English decorative arts in the eighteenth century, thanks to the work of William Kent and other Palladian designers at the beginning of the century. Thomas Chippendale and other craftsmen in the Georigan era continued to incorporate shells into their designs.
We have put together a Pinterest board with all of the pieces in our collection that feature shells along with famous Georgian interiors and architecture that incorporate the shell motif. To see the board, click here.