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170

PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTOR

A rare and finely carved model for a 36-gun merchantman named 'Stathuys van Dort' and dated '1723', possibly a VOC merchantman
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170

PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTOR

A rare and finely carved model for a 36-gun merchantman named 'Stathuys van Dort' and dated '1723', possibly a VOC merchantman
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Details & Cataloguing

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A rare and finely carved model for a 36-gun merchantman named 'Stathuys van Dort' and dated '1723', possibly a VOC merchantman
representing a typical 17th-18th century three-masted vessel the plank-on-frame hull with three wales, redecorated and with later rigging
approximately 190cm. long, 170cm. high; 6ft. 3in,
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Provenance

Probably commissioned for the City Hall of Dordrecht circa 1723

Catalogue Note

This model is an extremely fine and detailed carved 18th century three-master of museum display quality. The beautifully designed ship with its plank-on-frame hull ends in a flat tuck, mentioning the name and year of the ship: Stathuys van Dort 1723. The hull has three wales giving it a splendid sheer. According to the custom of the period the lowermost wale has been finished as a broad band, the other two are placed just above and just below the gunports. The ship has one continuous upper deck with ten guns of a smaller size and one the forecastle there are four more. Apart from the upper deck, the hull also houses a lower located main-deck without guns which was probably intended for the storage of merchandise.

The model measures overall 190 cm and is 170cm high. Taking into account the length stem to stern and the rigging of the present model the scale is probably around 1:30 towards the assumed original ship. The design of this model ship spans 70 years of Dutch boat building. The form of the hull dates to circa 1650-1680, whilst the superstructure and further additions are contemporary to its probable commission in circa 1723.

Authentic 18th century ship models are a rare find, especially when they are in such a pristine condition as the one currently on offer. However, the rigging and sails are of later date than the hull itself. This is not unusual as fabric lasts only a mere 150 to 200 years; afterwards it falls apart irrecoverably. Fortunately, the rigging has been replaced professionally and in an impeccable way. The rigging has been constructed of – as it should be – hand-made beaten ropes. The current rigging is probably not older than 50 years.

The carving, as to be expected in old, perfectly built models, is of great quality and has most certainly been executed by a professional. Everything has been carried out with the utmost perfection and refinement: the figurehead with the usual flanking lions, and especially the finely carved stern with the name of the ship and also actually depicting the front of the former medieval city hall of Dordrecht in relief (see image).

As far as known at present no fleet with a V.O.C. ship named Stathuys van Dort unfortunately has been registered or known.

Trade and navigation was the basis for the solid economical position during the Golden Age. Maritime defence was important to keep the trading routes on sea open for the Dutch ships. This caused a maritime expansion. V.O.C. had to be accompanied by gun merchantman ships. Mercantile marine and private shipbuilding were therefore closely linked with the navy as supplier of ships and crewmembers.

The return ship was the most important ship which strongly resembled the war ships of the Republic. Usually they were heavily armed with the same types of canons but less than in warships. In times of distress,, these ships were lent to the admiralty. Another well-known warship is the ‘fregata’ which was also used as a merchantman. The average time to build a merchant ship was 5 to 8 months; the costs were approximately 90.000 – 110.000 Dutch guilders. A ship could be used for circa 15 years.

The ships of the V.O.C. and the Admiralty of the Dutch Republic dominated the world seas during the 17th and 18th century. The V.O.C. and Admiralty embellished their meeting room or ‘Kamer’ with ship models in order to impress visitors.                   Ship models were highly valued well into the 19th century because of their historical and artistic importance. A ship model is an exceptionally complex object. A builder always went to great lengths to produce a replica of a vessel and invested years of his life as well as knowledge, effort and money to make the hull, the anchors, the cannons, the decorations and the rigging.

For a long time it was custom to hang ship models in churches for religious or superstitious reasons. More often, however, a model was made for commercial reasons. In England models often served to persuade the Board of the Navy to order a full scale copy. These so-called Navy board Models are exceptionally beautiful and refined in every detail; even the interior was made on scale. Building such models was a highly specialised craft.

In the Netherlands models were not generally built for commercial reasons. The admiralties all had their own shipyards and did not need to solicit orders. The fact that models were nonetheless built in the 17th century was largely due to notions of status and a desire to show off. The possessions of an imposing ship model confirmed status. It was not uncommon to display models in a room where an important committee congregated. Ship models played a role in decoration of the rooms of the East India Company’s executive, the Heeren XVII.

Ship models were also used as business gifts. Whereas most models are nowadays being made as pastimes, this was an unheard of luxury in the past.                   Dutch ship models almost exclusively played a decorative role. It is a myth that a model served as a guide to build a ship. Apart from its aesthetic qualities, a model serves as an important historical source while its technical details reveal the state of technology at the time.

The name Stathuys van Dort firmly identifies the model as a merchantman, albeit rather heavy and efficiently armed. The characteristics of the hull bring to mind a strong association to men-of war. It is even very likely that the original ship and/or this model were especially commissioned by the city of Dordrecht.

Herbert van Mierlo

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