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A highly unusual carved painted, gilt and gem-set tortoise carapace resembling the mythical Cosmic or World-bearing Turtle


Probably Germany, late 19th century

L. 32 x W. 26 x H. 20 cm

Private collection, Munich

Following the natural forms of the carapace, the artist carved medals all around and painted a surprising portrait gallery depicting the different peoples of the world, amongst them Maori, Sinhalese, Chinese, Tartars, Papuans American Indigenous, Inuit, Persians, Europeans and many more. On the upper part of the shell, coats-of-arms belonging to China, The United States, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, and Persia. Furthermore, the shell is decorated with miniature copies of famous Romantic paintings, and images of nature and men and with geometric patterns in polychrome and gold. An approximate globe map sits on the final, slightly rounded part of the shell.

In 19th century Germany, the Romantic wholesome idea of the mythical World-bearing turtle, appropriated from American Indigenous, Chinese and Hindu Mythology, was still very alive and an attractive thought. In the Wunderkammer, the criteria which governed the selection of objects, rarity and strangeness served to blur the boundaries and create a direct synthesis between the three kingdoms of ‘Exotica’, ‘naturalia’ and ‘artificialia’. As a whole, this meticulously decorated carapace is a formidable example of everything above.

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