Biology

Recreation of the eye and the mind in the observation of snails. Buonanni, Roma 1681
Recreation of the eye and the mind in the observation of snails. Buonanni, Roma 1681
The noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis L.) is found only in the Mediterranean. With a size of up to 120 cm it has fascinated naturalists since ancient times. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder have described the shell and its companion, the pinna guard, a crab.

In 1681 Filippo Buonanni (1638-1725) has published the first book devoted exclusively to shellfish: «Ricreatione dell'occhio e della mente nell'osservation' delle chiocciole». It is one of the first scientific books written in a modern language. Among the engravings are also two pen shells with the fibre beard.

Buonanni knows the use of byssus threads as a textile material. He gives the term Bisso marino, which means sea byssus and opposes it to the Bisso terrestre, which means the byssus of the land made from linen or cotton.

Processed sea-silk can hardly be distinguished from mulberry silk with the naked eye, however with its elliptical cross-section it can easily be detected by using an optical light microscope. No other natural fiber shows this cross-section. Images with the scanning electron microscope show the surface, and physico-chemical studies demonstrate other properties of the byssus fibre of Pinna nobilis.

The question of whether sea-silk can be coloured or if it ever has been coloured, is discussed highly controversial in literature. The fact is that all objects found to date are undyed, or only brightened.


Further sources: Gessner 1553, 1558, Rondelet 1554–55, Aldrovandi 1606, Colonna 1616, de Réaumur 1714, Dézallier d’Argenville 1742, Lavini 1835, Müller 1837