Still-life was one of a number of new genres in painting that became popular in seventeenth-century Holland, after the collapse of religious patronage in the previous century (as did landscape, domestic interiors, and townscapes). Rembrandt engaged closely with the human content of his work, and this still-life study is unique in his printed work. The shell is a Conus marmoreus, which is native to south-east Africa, Polynesia and Hawaii. It may be that Rembrandt owned an example, along with many other curiosities in his collection. Wenceslaus Hollar etched similar shells with great virtuosity, and Rembrandt may have been exercising his etching technique to capture the sheen on the shell.The first state of the plate lacks all the ambient tone, except for the shadow cast by the shell on the surface that supports it. By including the surrounding atmosphere of lights and darks, Rembrandt transforms the balance of the lighting. The shell's striking pattern, with the tight spiral of its base, clearly fascinated him, as it is captured in great detail.