University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson College Humanities Society talks > “Stay in your shell, that will be of use to you:” The miniature shell collection in Petronella Brandt’s dollhouse

“Stay in your shell, that will be of use to you:” The miniature shell collection in Petronella Brandt’s dollhouse

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Anthony Pickles.

Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse (1680-1716, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) features a miniature cabinet of curiosities containing a collection of shells, all real baby versions of specimen of the East Indian archipelago. A serious attempt at assembling an art collection, Oortman’s dollhouse was set in a cabinet with glass doors, and was likely a fairly accurate version of her own Amsterdam residence. This paper will look into the Russian-doll effect of an actual residence housing a dollhouse-cabinet, housing a miniature cabinet of curiosities, housing shells, which are, after all, vacant houses of sea creatures. In the context of 17th century metaphors of shells as standing in for excessive luxuries, as well as Steward and Bachelard’s theories, I suggest that Oortman’s miniature shells were contemplative objects allowing her to philosophize about the place of her home in the world.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society talks series.

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