The Art of Snails

Snails play a surprising part in art.

Dali used them as images of impotence, while medieval painters included them in paintings of the Virgin Mary, due to the belief that their shells meant that their modesty was protected and they reproduced without sex.

Gravestones are sometimes etched with snail images for they are seen as creatures that undergo resurrection when, after a long period of drought, it rains and thousands of snails that had been dried up start crawling around.

Dutch flower paintings often include snails for the message behind those works was that, beautiful as the flowers are, they will soon be consumed, like human flesh, by worms, by insects – and by snails.

Many other aspects of the biology of snails have an echo in art, and some art-works hint at the question why some species are so genetically variable in shell colour and pattern?

Perhaps we can learn from the world of painting, as a hint that the two cultures may, at least in the world of molluscs, be uniting to form one.


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