Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Go Before Thee

Figureheads are the carved wooden decorations located at the prow of the ship, reaching their zenith between the 16th and 19th centuries. In ancient times, Viking ships carried a menacing full figure at the front end to ward off evil spirits. Egyptian barges used an "eye" decoration, in order for the ship to find its way through the seas. Figureheads were also employed to indicate the name of the ship to an iliterate population.
By the Baroque period, the 1600's, these figures became quite emmense, weighing several tons, adversely affecting the quality of sailing, so by the 18th Century, more often busts were used. Quite elaborately carved, painted and gilt with gold, they struck quite a pose as ships made their way down the emerald catwalk.
Above is the figurehead from Lord Nelson's HMS Victory, very impressive, though they began to die out with the sailing ship.
At left, this gallery of figureheads is featured at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

For more history, see

Also, you might enjoy the following video. In September, I saw a particularly interesting maritime exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. This video talks about conservation of one of the pieces from their collection.

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