BOOK REVIEW

The Shell: A World of Decoration & Ornament

By Ingrid Thomas

Thames & Hudson, 15 October 2007, ISBN 978-0-500-51357-6

Many books on shells have been published in recent years. Most are aimed at collectors; others at the general reader who enjoys browsing photographs of beautiful objects. This is the first, to my knowledge, to provide in-depth coverage of the artistic uses of shells.

This sumptuously produced publication is in itself a work of art. Illustrated throughout with eye-catching photographs of very high quality, the book begins with a useful introduction that discusses what a shell is, and the uses to which shells have been put in different cultures through the ages. The main body of the book consists of chapters on carved shells, shell jewellery, shells in art, ornamental shell work, shells in architecture and shells in the decorative arts. Many of the objects depicted are strikingly beautiful. It concludes with chapters on the naming of shells, the history of the study of conchology, collecting and the importance of conservation. The text is well written, detailed and clear, and has obviously been thoroughly researched. An imaginative and very helpful feature for the non-specialist is the illustrated “shell glossary” which shows colour photographs of the species mentioned in the book, giving their scientific and common names, their approximate size and their geographical distribution. Listings are provided of public collections around the world and of shell houses and grottoes open to the public. There is also a thorough bibliography of works consulted, a separate listing of introductory books on shells, as well as a list of shell-related web sites. The interested reader who wishes to pursue either the conchological or the artistic aspects of the subject further is well provided for.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everybody who appreciates shells, to artists as a source of inspiration and to all those who simply appreciate beautiful things, whether natural or man-made.

Julian Joseph


The Shell - front Cypraeorbis willcoxi (Dall, 1890): base



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