Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Still Life with Shells and a Chip-Wood Box

Sebastian Stoskopff (French, Strasbourg 1597–1657 Idstein)
late 1620s
Oil on canvas
18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in. (47 x 59.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Wrightsman Fund, 2002
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 618
A French-speaking Lutheran from Strasbourg, Stoskopff worked intermittently in Paris from 1622 to 1641. This spare picture of carefully arranged exotic shells and a simple box filled with fish and candied fruits is a characteristic essay in subtle shapes and tones.
Stoskopff was an Alsatian still-life painter born and raised in the independent Protestant republic of Strasbourg. In 1615, he became the pupil of the painter and architect Daniel Soreau (died 1619) in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main. From 1621 until 1640 he lived in Paris, resettling in Strasbourg in 1641.

Stoskopff's finest paintings date from his Paris period. In its simplicity and allusive combination of seemingly unrelated objects, the present canvas is an unusually good example of Stoskopff’s most French-inspired work. Before a plain black background are arranged three objects: a chip-wood box, with its lid askew, a polished nautilus shell (Nautilus pompilius), and a humpback cowrie shell (Cypraea mauritiana). The box was common in this period and appears frequently in still lifes of the seventeenth century. The shells, coming from the Indian and Pacific oceans, were collector’s items. As costly objects, with their sheen of mother-of-pearl, they could be seen as symbols of vanity. Stoskopff’s preoccupation with light is paramount: objects seem mysteriously to hold and transmit it.

The picture, neither signed nor dated, was probably painted in the late 1620s. It is more sophisticated than the two dated works of 1625, the Still Life with a Candle and Books (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and the Still Life with a Baguette and Fish (private collection, Paris), and not yet touched by Stoskopff’s later striving for grandeur, as seen in the Five Senses of 1633 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg).

[2016; adapted from Fahy 2005]
[Galerie Joseph Hahn, Paris, by 1982–85; sold to private collector, Germany]; private collection, Germany (1985–2001; on deposit at the Historisches Museum Frankfurt in 1997; sold to Kilgore); [Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, 2001–2; sold to MMA]
New York. Paul Rosenberg and Company. "Four Guest Galleries from Paris and Paul Rosenberg & Co.: French Painting, 1600–1900," March 16–May 1, 1982, no. 5 (as "Nautilus, Shell and wooden Box," by Sébastien Stoskopff, lent by Galerie Joseph Hahn).

Paris. Grand Palais. "XIIe Biennale Internationale des Antiquaires," September 20–October 7, 1984, no catalogue.

Delft. Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof. "De Rijkdom Verbeeld," June 10–August 29, 1988, no. 13 (lent by a private collection, Germany).

Cambridge, Mass. Fogg Art Museum. "A Prosperous Past," October 1–November 27, 1988, no. 13.

Fort Worth, Tex. Kimbell Art Museum. "A Prosperous Past," December 10, 1988–January 29, 1989, no. 13.

Prague. Národní Galerie v Praze. "Georg Flegel (1566–1638): Zátisí," March 10–May 8, 1994, no. 75 (lent by a private collection).

Strasbourg. Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. "Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte," March 15–June 15, 1997, no. 6 (as on deposit at the Historisches Museum Frankfurt by a private collector).

Aix-la-Chapelle. Suermondt Ludwig Museum. "Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte," July 5–October 5, 1997, no. 6.

New York. Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc. "Old Master Paintings," January 14–February 8, 2002, no catalogue.

New York. Seventh Regiment Armory. "The International Fine Art Fair," May 10–15, 2002, stand F1 (lent by Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc.).


"Art Across North America: Paris and New York." Apollo 115 (April 1982), p. 287, fig. 11.

Four Guest Galleries from Paris and Paul Rosenberg & Co.: French Painting, 1600–1900. Exh. cat., Paul Rosenberg & Co. New York, 1982, pp. 18–19, 112, no. 5, ill., dates it about 1640–55, assigning it certainly to the artist's maturity.

Barbara Scott. "Letter from Paris: The Biennale des Antiquaires." Apollo 120 (September 1984), p. 208, fig. 2, mentions this picture as shown at the Biennale by Galerie Joseph Hahn.

"La XIIème Biennale des antiquaires." L'Estampille no. 173 (September 1984), p. 52, ill., as "Nautile, porcelaine et boîte de copeaux," Galerie Joseph Hahn.

Sam Segal. A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in the Netherlands, 1600–1700. Ed. William B. Jordan. Exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft. The Hague, 1989, pp. 88, 231, no. 13, ill. pp. 90 (color) and 231 [1st ed., 1988], sees it as related to the shell still lifes of Jacques Linard; incorrectly identifies the smaller shell as a Panther shell.

Hana Seifertová in Georg Flegel (1566–1638): Zátisí. Exh. cat., Národní Galerie v Praze. Prague, 1994, p. 139, no. 75, ill.

Birgit Hahn-Woernle. Sebastian Stoskopff: Mit einem kritischen Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1996, pp. 152–53, no. 23, ill. (color), dates it probably in the 1630s; describes the contents of the box as small red fruits and perhaps the skin of a fish and a slice of lemon; observes that it is possible, but not compelling, that this picture represented water in a series of the four elements.

Michèle-Caroline Heck in Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. Strasbourg, 1997, pp. 142–43, no. 6, ill. (color), dates it about 1625–30.

Hanns-Ulrich Mette in Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. Strasbourg, 1997, p. 126, dates it about 1630.

Holland Cotter. "Art in Review: 'Old Master Painting Exhibition,' Jack Kilgore & Company." New York Times (January 25, 2002), p. E43, calls it "the real treat" of the exhibition and notes that it has rightly been given pride of place.

Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2001–2002." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Autumn 2002), p. 20, ill. (color), dates it from the mid- to late 1620s, during the artist's Paris period.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 144–45, no. 40, ill. (color), dates it probably in the late 1620s, noting that it is more sophisticated than Stoskopff's two dated works of 1625: "Still Life with a Candle and Books" (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and "Still Life with a Baguette and Fish" (private collection, Paris).

Ingrid Thomas. The Shell: A World of Decoration and Ornament. New York, 2007, p. 122, ill. (color), correctly identifies the smaller shell as a Humpback Cowrie rather than a Panther.

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