Figurehead of old ships

Girl waiting for the sailor
Girl waiting for the sailor

The tradition of decorating the bow of a ship with a sculptural Figurehead or relief has existed since ancient times.

Spread under the bowsprit and directed forward, she was the symbol of the ship, the pride of ship owners and captains. When the ship served its time, the bow figure was removed, and she adorned the walls of buildings, columns, the house of the owner or captain. Subsequently, the nasal figures ended up in maritime museums.

Now she is called a “galleon figure” by the name of ships, but in naval terminology she is called
“latrine” figure, since it is installed on the latrine (overhang in the bow of a sailing vessel). On the same overhang, latrines for the crew were installed, therefore, toilets on ships are currently called latrine.

Bow figures of ships in the museum
Bow figures of ships in the museum

History of Figurehead

Sailing in primitive boats, powerless before the elements of the expanses of water, the navigators tried in every possible way to appease the gods and spirits, who, as they imagined, could tame the forces of wind and waves, protect from misfortunes, and contribute to the success of sailing.

The spirits guarded the ship from misfortune, shoals, storms, and dangerous winds. If the ship sank, they accompanied the souls of the sailors to the land of the dead.

Kri Dewarucı's Figure Head
Kri Dewarucı’s Figure Head

The ancient Egyptians often preferred sacred birds, whose image was supposed to protect the ship and its crew at sea from possible troubles.

The Phoenicians usually installed a carved wooden horse head on the nose, which symbolized the speed of their ships, and the Greeks and Romans – an angry boar or dragon in order to intimidate a potential enemy. The head of the dragon was a must-have item for fast-moving Drakars among the Vikings.

A cross between an angel and a mermaid
A cross between an angel and a mermaid

Ancient Greece

Figures of gods, mythological characters are often present in the decoration of ships. Mostly these were the ancient Roman gods, patrons of navigation and trade, Neptune and Mercury.

Ram of Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme.Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy
Ram of Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme.Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy
Figurehead Hall at the Naval Museum, Karlskrona Sweden
Figurehead Hall at the Naval Museum, Karlskrona Sweden

Vikings

Leaving the sea, sailors always made sacrifices, and to show that their patrons are never forgotten, they began to install cult objects and images of gods as decoration on ships.

Most often, at first, these were images of mythical animals. The inhabitants of Norway, for example, carved out of wood figures in the form of a dragon’s head, located on the bow of the ship, for their drakars. The Slavs decorated their boats with the heads of rams or goats, while other peoples preferred to make decorations on the bow of the ship in the form of birds, for example, peacocks.

Viking longship figurehead Corrie Isle of Arran
Viking longship figurehead Corrie Isle of Arran
Viking ship
Viking ship
Neo-Viking Figurehead, Lerwick
Neo-Viking Figurehead, Lerwick
This is the figurehead on a viking ship in the Norway section of World Showcase
This is the figurehead on a viking ship in the Norway section of World Showcase
A dragon's head adorns the prow of the Viking ship Munin, a half-size replica of the Gokstad ship Photographed in Heritage Harbour below the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
A dragon’s head adorns the prow of the Viking ship Munin, a half-size replica of the Gokstad ship Photographed in Heritage Harbour below the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
The 'Hugin' is a replica of a Viking Ship, which sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the invasion of Britain
The ‘Hugin’ is a replica of a Viking Ship, which sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the invasion of Britain
Figureheads

Many bow figures personified the name of the ship in direct, allegorical or symbolic form, in order to show the name of the ship to people who, for the most part, could not read.

In this case, a wide variety of figures were used: from ancient Roman emperors and heroes to exotic (for those times) peoples – Indians, Moors, etc.
There were figures of monks, saints, women and virgins of various types.

From the middle of the 16th century, Spanish-Portuguese shipbuilders began to install on galleons – large three-masted sailing ships adapted to transport valuable goods – sculptures that are very perfect in an artistic sense.

From the second half of the 16th century and especially in the 17th century, rich sculptural decoration has become a common attribute of all sailing ships.

At the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia
At the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia
At the NY Shanty Sing at Seamens' Church Institute at South Street Seaport
At the NY Shanty Sing at Seamens’ Church Institute at South Street Seaport
Barcelona
Barcelona
Animals

In the 16th and 19th centuries, the lion was the most common “character” depicted on the prow of warships. The Dutch were especially fond of decorating ships with carved lions. From them, this fashion passed to Russia – under Peter I, the lion was necessarily present in the decorative design of sailing ships of the newly created fleet.
heraldic or personal sculptures were used: anthropomorphic – in the form of a human figure, zoomorphic – in the form of birds and animals, or object – in the form of coats of arms, vignettes, garlands, etc.

Heraldic lions and eagles symbolized power, strength and nobility – these were all-European symbols that most often adorned the noses of warships.

Figure de proue du Eagle, trois-mâts barque américain construit en 1936, appartenant aux garde-côtes américains
Figure de proue du Eagle, trois-mâts barque américain construit en 1936, appartenant aux garde-côtes américains
Eagle Figurehead. At the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA
Eagle Figurehead. At the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA
Figure Head
Figure Head
figure of a galleon
figure of a galleon
SS Great Britain figurehead, starboard side
SS Great Britain figurehead, starboard side
Steamship SS Great Britain, figurehead, starboard side
Steamship SS Great Britain, figurehead, starboard side
This was lashed to the top of a storage box in the yard of the dry docks in Gloucester.
This was lashed to the top of a storage box in the yard of the dry docks in Gloucester.
Maritime mus – figure head

Such vessels sometimes were not inferior to the luxurious palaces of their rulers, in terms of the splendor of decoration and sometimes even surpassed them.

In the case of naval ships, the goal was to demonstrate the wealth and power of the owner.
In the heyday of the Baroque, some ships had gigantic figures weighing several tons.

Initially, the design models of the nasal figures were made by a sculptor from wood and wax on a small scale, and only after receiving the approval of the commission and the king, they were carved from wood in full size.

Figurehead of ships photos
Figure Head Tall ship Figurerhead Tall Ships Boston 2009
Figure Head Tall ship Figurerhead Tall Ships Boston 2009
figure of a galleon
figure of a galleon
Figurehead Museum, Tresco
Museum, Tresco
figure-head on af Chapman hostel in Stockholm. Ship from 1888 originally
figure-head on af Chapman hostel in Stockholm. Ship from 1888 originally
From the HMS Fame a training vessel for the Royal Hospital School, that was in front of The Queen's House at Greenwich, London.
From the HMS Fame a training vessel for the Royal Hospital School, that was in front of The Queen’s House at Greenwich, London.
Genova, immagine dal porto antico, piazza Caricamento - Polena della goletta utilizzata per il film del 1986 con Walter Matthau e diretto da Roman Polanski Pirati
Genova, immagine dal porto antico, piazza Caricamento – Polena della goletta utilizzata per il film del 1986 con Walter Matthau e diretto da Roman Polanski Pirati
Het Utrechts Statenjacht is een historische reconstructie van een statenjacht uit 1746.
Het Utrechts Statenjacht is een historische reconstructie van een statenjacht uit 1746.
HMS Victory. Close up of the figure head of HMS Victory. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, England
HMS Victory. Close up of the figure head of HMS Victory. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, England
Leather water buckets on HMS Victory in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, England
Leather water buckets on HMS Victory in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, England
Lions
Lions
Mermaid
Mermaid
National Marine Museum Paris, France
National Marine Museum Paris, France
Naval Figurehead at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
Naval Figurehead at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
Ocean 1790 Model Musem Paris
Ocean 1790 Model Musem Paris
One of a collection at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, England
One of a collection at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, England
Paris, Maritime Museum
Paris, Maritime Museum
pillar column, Petersburg.
pillar column, Petersburg.
Portsmouth Dockyards -figurehead
Dockyards -figurehead
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth
Portsmouth
Ram of Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme.Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy
Ram of Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme.Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy
SA Maritime Museum. Port Adelaide
SA Maritime Museum. Port Adelaide
Scaled down replica of original Victory figurehead
Scaled down replica of original Victory figurehead
Shabab Oman figurehead. This sail training vessel visited Hartlepool
Shabab Oman figurehead. This sail training vessel visited Hartlepool
Figurehead, Ship figurehead seen in Karlskrona Marinmuseum, Sweden
Ship figurehead seen in Karlskrona Marinmuseum, Sweden
Figurehead, The bronze 'Queen of Time' statue standing on a concrete ship's bow above the main entrance to the huge Edwardian Selfridges store on Oxford Street in London
The bronze ‘Queen of Time’ statue standing on a concrete ship’s bow above the main entrance to the huge Edwardian Selfridges store on Oxford Street in London
Figurehead, The figurehead of a boat called The Sunbeam, in the the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Figurehead of a boat called The Sunbeam, in the the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Figurehead, The figurehead of HMS Warrior. Other than HMS Rodney, HMS Warrior and her sistership HMS Black Prince were the last British battleships to carry the feature
The figurehead of HMS Warrior. Other than HMS Rodney, HMS Warrior and her sistership HMS Black Prince were the last British battleships to carry the feature
Figurehead, The Maritime Museum is in Darling Harbour in Sydney.
The Maritime Museum is in Darling Harbour in Sydney.
Figurehead, Turk Figure head International Festival of the Sea 2005, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, England.
Turk Figure head International Festival of the Sea 2005, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, England.
Figurehead, Voluptuous Ship's Figurehead, Brading
Voluptuous Ship’s Figurehead, Brading
Figurehead, Warrior figurehead
Warrior figurehead
Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Monuments reveal