Johannes Clauss I was born in Nuremburg in 1596. He was apprenticed to Hanz Pezolt, and became master goldsmith in 1627 at the age of 31. He died in 1671.
Two similar cups by Clauss are recorded. One, in the Staatliche Museum, Kassel, was illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Wenzel Jamnitzer un die Nürnberg Goldschmiedekunst 1500-1700, Germaninisches National Museum, Nüremburg, 28 June-15 September 1985, p.289, no.147. The other, formerly in the Kramarsky Collection, New York, was sold, Christie's New York, 30 October 1991, lot 72. M. Rosenberg notes in his work, Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen, Frankfurt am Main, 1925, vol. III, p. 212, that two further nautilus cups by Clauss were in the collection of the Armoury, Moscow, in 1884.
There are obvious similarties between the present nautilus cup and the Kassel and Kramarsky examples (see illustration below). Each shell is supported on a figural stem and is enclosed within openwork straps chased with demi-female figures. The rim mounts to the shells are each etched with mythological marine scenes. In addition, the large standing figure finials are balanced by a cast animal or dragon at the shoulder of the shell. The base of the present cup and the Kassel cup appear to differ only in the addition of the outer fluted and lobed border to the former, which was presumably made to give the cup better proportions and greater stability given the large size of the shell.
There are however significant differences between the three cups particularly in the actual figures and animals chosen for the stems and finials. The stem of the present cup is formed as the kneeling satyr, Pan, surrounded by crustacea etc., while the finial is formed as Neptune facing the lion on the shoulder of the shell. In the Kramarsky cup the same Neptune finial appears but this time facing a dragon, while the stem is formed possibly as a wodewose but more probably as a kneeling water god (lacking an oar). The stem of the Kassel cup comprised again a standing figure of Neptune surrounded by identical crustacea to that on the present cup. However, the finial of St. George standing above the dragon is balanced by a classical equestrian figure on the shoulder. The most remarkable feature of the current lot is the inclusion of the cast dragon (similar to that on the exterior of the shell on the Kramarsky cup) within the shell bowl, visible only when the cover is removed.
Although it appears to be impossible to determine in which order these cups were made, it seems probable, judging from their similarities, that the three were produced wihtin a relatively short period of time. The decoration particularly on the cover relates to a group of etched designs by Christoph Jamnitzer, Nüremburg, circa 1610 (see J. Hayward, Virtuoso Goldsmiths, 1540-1620, London, 1976, figs. 169 & 172.
The symbolism of this nautilus cup is complex. The finial formed as the figure of Neptune, which originally held a trident, controls the element of water. He surmounts the shell itself, which in turn represents Venus' triumph. The shell is presented by the kneeling figure of the enslaved satyr Pan. His love for the water-nymph Syrinx is recalled by the bull-mace reeds borne by Love chased on the cover. Pan is accompanied by crustacea and animals emerging from the water, while the elements of earth and fire are recalled by the lion and by the dragon within the shell. Finally, also recalling Ovid's Metamorphoses - The Love of the Gods, the base is applied with 'antique' filigree celebrating Love's triumph and incorporating the standing figure of Mars and Venus' shell badge.