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Still Life with a Nautilus Cup
Probably by Gerrit Willemsz. Heda
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This gloriously cluttered picture seems to suggest the aftermath of a rich banquet that’s gone a little too far. Objects sit on the table at a perilous angle or materialise from nowhere, but the one that takes centre stage is secure. It’s called a nautilus cup and is meant to impress. It’s made from a real nautilus shell, at the time a rare and costly item.

A feast should have food, and Heda places a huge fish on a pewter plate. But it’s on the edge of the table, easily knocked off; the glasses next to it also tip sideways. Heda doesn't necessarily want to give a feeling of instability. He may have used this method to show skill at projecting objects into space towards us.

The fish, salt and nautilus all have a connection to the sea – perhaps the picture was a commission from a guild of merchants who dealt in such goods.

Key facts
Artist Probably by Gerrit Willemsz. Heda
Artist dates about 1624 - 1649
Full title Still Life with a Nautilus Cup
Date made probably about 1645
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 84.6 x 99.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Claude Dickason Rotch, 1962
Inventory number NG6336
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings after 1600
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