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Figureheads: On the Bow of the Ship

Figureheads: On the Bow of the Ship cover

Figureheads: On the Bow of the Ship

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Figureheads, the carved wooden sculptures that decorate the prows of sailing ships, offer protection for the crew from harsh seas and lends the vessel its specific spirit—or at least that was the theory in the distant past. Figureheads developed from an ancient tradition of decorating ships with painted eyes, carved figures, and animal heads. Vikings in northern Europe adorned the bows of their vessels with dragon heads, which were thought to help ships see their way through the sea. They are considered the only tangible evidence of the “Great Age of Sail.” But what other purposes did sailors believe figureheads served? What stories do these beautiful objects tell? And what do the different characters symbolize?

On the Bow of the Ship contains over fifty examples of wooden carvings from the National Maritime Museum in London, home to the world’s most extensive collection of figureheads. The illustrated guide explores themes surrounding these unique carvings from mythology and gender to politics and literature. For instance, superstitious crew members often lovingly cared for their figureheads, which were often the only female presence on board. On the Bow of the Ship delves deeply into the history and contexts of figureheads and, by so doing, provides a fresh image of the life at sea.

Sue Prichard is senior curator of arts at Royal Museums Greenwich in London. She is the author of The Fifties and Quilts 1700–2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories.

Jeremy Michell is curator of historic photographs and ships plans at the National Maritime Museum in London. He is co-editor of South: The Race to the Pole.

ISBN: 9781906367633

ISBN-10: 9781906367633

Publisher: Royal Museums Greenwich

Publication Date: 09/12/2020 - 12:00am

On Sale: 09/12/2020 - 12:00am

Pages: 160


History / Military / Naval