Of the many fine and interesting things illustrated in Patrick Mauriès’ book Cabinets of Curiosities, some of the most eye-catching, to me, were the remarkable, hyper-elaborate 16th and 17th-Century ivory carvings, such as the one pictured left, a miniature corkscrewing tower by, or after the style of the Milanese collector and instrument-maker Manfredo Settala (1600-1680). There is a portrait of Settala in which he is depicted wearing a rather melancholy expression, and delicately holding just such a carving between his fingers, ‘the visual equivalent of a rhetorical flourish, as impressive as it is ultimately futile.’ as Mauriès puts it. One of the largest collections of these virtuoso carvings was held in Dresden, and included over two hundred such pieces, including the four pictured below. One common characteristic of these marvels was the attempt to carve one shape inside another, as many times as was possible, an endeavour which seems scarcely less arbitrary and difficult than assembling a ship-in-a-bottle within the bottle itself… No less a figure than the Habsburg emperor Rudolf II is supposed to have practiced this art. ‘Ivory-carving was nourished by the contemporary obsession with perspective and solid geometry’ writes Mauriès. It is startling to think, when presented with artefacts like these, that designs such as Wentzel Jamnitzer’s were not, as one might otherwise suppose, abstract and conceptual, but rather stood perhaps, as idealised templates toward which the master-carver might hope to aspire.