Seashells have been used in various art forms throughout history. Shells have been collected and coveted- they used to be considered exotic. The slave trade was greatly linked to the collection of shell specimen, people often endangering themselves to get a particular example.
Today, finding a shell on a beach is as if you are finding a little treasure. From childhood we are delighted by shells, pressing your ear against its cavity to listen to the sound of the sea. We appreciate the sheen, the colours and the variety of their sculptural forms.
In the 17th century, seashells became popular collectible objects and were often used as subjects for still-life paintings known as Vanitas, which symbolically represent the transience of life. Here is the modern version- representing a day of beach combing.
York artist Mark Azopardi collects his beach finds and displays them on a plate before painting them.
Pink shells is a finished watercolour and a memory of a particular North Yorkshire beach
In the 17th and 18th centuries the "Wunderkammers", wonder rooms or curiosity cabinets were places where the wealthy displayed natural specimens from around the world. They formed part of a proper art collection.
Seashells have been used as subjects in paintings throughout history. One of the most recognisable painting is the "The Birth of Venus," by Sandro Botticelli- it features Venus standing on an open clam shell, the symbol of beauty. It was most probably commissioned by one of the members of the Medici family and was controversial at the time.
Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, Uffizi galleries, Florence
Seashells have been used in home decor for centuries. They have been used to create unique and custom-made pieces of wall decor, among other things as well as being style amongst other belongings.
Further reading that might interest you