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‘Unusual excrescences of nature’ : collected coral and the study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp

Marlise Rijks (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
Many seventeenth-century Antwerp collections contained red coral, both natural and crafted. Also, coral was a pictorial motif depicted by Antwerp artists on mythological scenes, still lifes, paintings of collector’s cabinets, and allegories. This paper provides a ‘biography of coral’ in early seventeenth-century Antwerp to explain the interest in this naturalia. It argues that the interest in coral resulted from the fascination with metamorphoses – in particular the process of petrifaction, which highly interested naturalists, but also had artisanal, mythological, and religious connotations. Antwerp painters, engravers, gold- and silversmiths, jewellers, apothecaries, and collectors were knowledgeable about coral in different ways. Added up, their stories explain the multi-layered meaning of coral that was intrinsic to the value attached to this ‘unusual excrescence of nature’. Coral was indeed many things at the same time: a commodity crafted into jewellery and artefacts, a popular collectable in its natural shape, a motif for Antwerp painters, an essential commodity in the European-Indian trade network, a naturalia associated with classical mythology, a substance associated with the Blood of Christ, and a problematic naturalia that raised questions about classification, origins and natural processes.
Keywords
collections, Coral, Antwerp, artist and artisans, art, metamorphosis, petrification, seventeenth century

Citation

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Chicago
Rijks, Marlise. 2017. “‘Unusual Excrescences of Nature’ : Collected Coral and the Study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp.” Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies.
APA
Rijks, M. (2017). “Unusual excrescences of nature” : collected coral and the study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp. Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies.
Vancouver
1.
Rijks M. “Unusual excrescences of nature” : collected coral and the study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp. Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies. Maney Publishing (Taylor & Francis Group); 2017;
MLA
Rijks, Marlise. “‘Unusual Excrescences of Nature’ : Collected Coral and the Study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp.” Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies (2017): n. pag. Print.
@article{7036825,
  abstract     = {Many seventeenth-century Antwerp collections contained red coral, both natural and crafted. Also, coral was a pictorial motif depicted by Antwerp artists on mythological scenes, still lifes, paintings of collector{\textquoteright}s cabinets, and allegories. This paper provides a {\textquoteleft}biography of coral{\textquoteright} in early seventeenth-century Antwerp to explain the interest in this naturalia. It argues that the interest in coral resulted from the fascination with metamorphoses -- in particular the process of petrifaction, which highly interested naturalists, but also had artisanal, mythological, and religious connotations. Antwerp painters, engravers, gold- and silversmiths, jewellers, apothecaries, and collectors were knowledgeable about coral in different ways. Added up, their stories explain the multi-layered meaning of coral that was intrinsic to the value attached to this {\textquoteleft}unusual excrescence of nature{\textquoteright}. Coral was indeed many things at the same time: a commodity crafted into jewellery and artefacts, a popular collectable in its natural shape, a motif for Antwerp painters, an essential commodity in the European-Indian trade network, a naturalia associated with classical mythology, a substance associated with the Blood of Christ, and a problematic naturalia that raised questions about classification, origins and natural processes.},
  author       = {Rijks, Marlise},
  issn         = {0309-6564},
  journal      = {Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies},
  keyword      = {collections,Coral,Antwerp,artist and artisans,art,metamorphosis,petrification,seventeenth century},
  language     = {eng},
  publisher    = {Maney Publishing (Taylor \& Francis Group)},
  title        = {{\textquoteleft}Unusual excrescences of nature{\textquoteright} : collected coral and the study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp},
  year         = {2017},
}