Ship’s Figureheads

With the onset of steam over sail towards the end of the Nineteenth Century , seen as no longer viable and cost effective, once beautiful sailing ships where broken up in great numbers, the figurehead sold for a few pounds or even given away to decorate a local ship owners garden or on the wall of a building.

Over countless centuries figureheads have developed an almost physical persona, difficult to explain, in this modern day, but easy to see, for anyone looking for an overview on the subject of Ships Figureheads, by Hans Jurgen Hansen and Clas Broder Hansen is without a doubt the book to buy, it starts with a foreword by Prof Dr Detlev Ellmers Director of the Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums in Bremerhaven Germany, and then moves on with several chapters dealing with early forms of the tradition, from Sacrificial Animals used in the Ancient Mediterranean civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, to the feared dragon figureheads of Northern Europe, and the Vikings, then onwards to the Lion Figurehead, a theme that would dominate the bows of vessels for over two hundred years, a number of important examples of this subject can be found with the “VASA” of 1628 carved by Marten Redtmer and now on display at the Sjohistoriska Museum Wasavaret in Stockholm, the Red Lion taken from a vessel wrecked off the west coast of Jutland in the mid seventeenth century, and now on display in the collection of the Danish National Maritime Museum in Helsingor, to a British Figurehead from the Warship HMS Hogue built in 1808 and now part of the collection of historic British Naval Figureheads in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, other chapters include “Figureheads of the 19th Century, and “Fleet Sculptors”, and finally “Independent Figurehead Carvers”

Hans and Clas Hansen have chosen a wide range of figurehead subjects to illustrate this book, from carving of great aesthetic beauty and outstanding craftsmanship, such as the “Loch Linnhe” built in 1876, and now preserved in the Alands Skofarts-Museum in Marienhamn, to the almost naïve and unsophisticated representations of nineteenth century ship owners, and unknown females, to be seen in such collections at the “Cutty Sark” Trust, Greenwich, London, each one with it’s own merits, each one worthy of preservation, so future generations can study and try to understand the appeal these objects had for countless generations of seafarers around the World, in his foreword Professor Ellmers starts with a line that very much says it all, and helps us to understand this affection, for what is after all, just a carving made out of wood and painted,“Neptune’s wooden angel’s, as figureheads have been called; have been able to draw the visitor’s of nautical collections under their spell more strongly than many other objects”

Unfortunately the golden age of ships Figureheads and Maritime decoration has long gone, the tradition of Figurehead carving almost lost as an art form in it’s own right, what has survived in our Museums is a fraction of a host of “Neptune’s Wooden Angel’s” a few rare examples can still be seen on the bows of Historic vessels around the World from the “Vasa” in Sweden to the “Cutty Sark” in London to HMS VICTORY in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and onwards to modern day sail training ships still in use today.

For those looking for more information on the subject a Bibliography is also published with details of books and related articles.

A great deal of information and a wealth of images make this an ideal book for any one with a love of the subject, or for those with a desire to find out more.

Published in the USA by Schiffer Publishing
ISBN 0887402992
Size 6”x 9” Hard Cover 128 pages.

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