Maritime Art

A Ship in a Calm Sea. (Late 16thC – Mid 17thC)

By Abraham de Verwer (1585-1650)

A beautiful painting evoking calm. On left is a traditional Durth coastal craft. Several people are visible aboard and the leeboard shown in the water, suggesting that this small craft has no keel. Distant in the centre are two more craft, almost serving as reflections for the craft in the foreground in the golden light. To the right, shown in port-quarter view is a magnificent small warship. She flies the Dutch ensign at her stern and mainmast. The stern is heavily and ornately carved, a red lion just visible as well as a coat of arms. Her deck is busy with crew. A small boat rows away from her, with two seabirds flying ahead. A man stands in the bows of this rowing boat blowing a trumpet. The artist, Abraham de Verwer (1585-1650), was also an inventor. In 1623 he wrote to the States General to interest them in an invention for blocking harbours to prevent enemy shipping entering or leaving. De Verwer received several commissions to paint sea battles in the 1620s including the ‘Siege of La Rochelle’, now at the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Numerous articles on this period in maritime history have been published in the Mariner’s Mirror including, from 1919, ‘British Ships Through Dutch Spectacles’ and ‘The Arrival of the Dutch and British in the Indian Ocean’. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 permitted Dutch, English and French traders into the Indian Ocean. The French stayed in Madagascar. The Dutch set up pepper entrepôts in the Malay Archipelago, thus avoiding the Portuguese in the north but not the English.   The first twenty years of the 17c were marked by balanced naval pressures.   Then the Dutch and English merchants combined forces and mounted a commercial blockade of Goa. The Portuguese galleys were bottled up, unable to prevent the capture of Portuguese Ormuz, opening up the Persian Gulf to trade. Thus was Portuguese hegemony neutralised.

The Society Annual Lecture 1962 is also interesting: ‘The Dutch East-Indiamen: their Sailors, their Navigators, and Life on Board, 1602–1795’. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Dutch led the world in trade with the East-Indies. The Dutch East-India Company (VOC) was divided into six chambers, Amsterdam, Middleburg, Rotterdam, Delft, Hoorn and Enkhuizen, with a central board, the Heeren XVII, or ‘Gentlemen Seventeen’. Its main trading vessels, retour-schepen or ‘return-ships’, were used for the long voyages between Texel and Batavia. Smaller vessels were used for country trade in the east. Until 1697 there was little uniformity in the type of vessels built, with the ensuing inefficiencies. From 1697 three rates of vessel were specified, although in practice there was still some variation. This article considers the names used for vessels, the ships’ complements and their rations, health, discipline and high mortality rates. It also considers the trading patterns and routes used, and the stagnation of navigational theory and practice by over-regulation.



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