Ship ahead

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Marine Painting from the 14th to the 19th century

Since early modern times, seafaring has held the promise of adventure, glory and riches. Apart from the opening up of America it was primarily trade with the Asian continent that held the prospect of huge gains and that prompted the building of countless vessels in the shipyards of Europe. This development was increasingly reflected in the visual arts, for proud owners, affluent citizens and the political establishment of the seafaring nations commissioned renowned artists with the creation of magnificent marine paintings. Every variation of the theme was covered: from storm-whipped seascapes with towering waves and ships like nutshells, or desperate seamen clinging to the wreckage of a ship, to beautifully decorated boats on a calm sea, their sails gently billowing.

The summer exhibition will give insight into the evolution of ship portraiture in marine painting and its wide range of visual imagery from late mediaeval times. Starting with the Christian and mythological depictions of the 14th century, which are fraught with symbolic and allegorical meaning, the range extends from splendid naval reviews and ship portraits to stormy seascapes with terrifying shipwrecks. Battle scenes, realistically depicted by 17th-century Dutch masters, will be on display along with lavishly executed, heroically portrayed naval encounters of Austrian men-of-war in the 19th century.

In about 1600, when the country was thriving on maritime trade, marine painting evolved as a genre in its own right in the Netherlands and was further developed with great success in Holland. The realistic renderings of the ocean, the ships and the weather conditions met with enthusiastic response from large sections of the population both within the country and abroad. This encouraged several painters to specialise in the genre, and occasionally specialisation culminated in some artists painting only calm seas and others only stormy ones.
In France, interest in the genre of marine painting arose with the rise in the country's military power in the 18th century. It culminated in the royal commission to Claude Joseph Vernet for the painting of harbour scenes. Compared with the great seafaring nations of England, France, Holland, Spain or Portugal, Austria played a minor role. It was only after some successful military actions in the 19th century that the status of the navy was upgraded and that, as a consequence, it figured more prominently in the visual arts.

Among the works displayed at the exhibition will be paintings by the Dutch artists Jacob Isacksz van Ruisdael, Bonaventura Peeters and Adam Willaerts, by the Austrian Joseph Rebell or the Frenchman Jacques Philippe de Loutherbourg, who were inspired by the forces of nature to create highly dramatic depictions of stormy seas and shipwrecks. Serene, idyllic views of shores and fascinating depictions of docks and shipyards are represented in the paintings of the Frenchman Claude Joseph Vernet, the Dutchmen Salomon van Ruysdael and Ludolf Backhuysen, the Austrians Hubert Sattler, Christian Hilfgott Brand, Franz Ignaz Flurer, Rudolf von Alt and Emil Jacob Schindler and the Italian Canaletto. Further masters of the genre were the Dutchmen Simon de Vlieger or Hendrick Cornelis Vroom as well as the German-Austrian Alexander Kircher, who created large-scale paintings documenting major historical events. The exhibition will be rounded off with the idyllic seascapes of the Dutch painter Willem van de Velde the Younger or Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman, with the ship portraits by Hubert Sattler, which are accurate down to the last detail, and with depictions of the life on board a sailing ship by Thomas Ender, painted during his voyage to Brazil in 1815.
Apart from the paintings, the exhibition will include model ships, boat-shaped centrepieces, atlases, nautical charts, plans of harbours and nautical instruments, such as a sextant, a quadrant or an astrolabe.

The catalogue will address the iconographic significance of the imagery, literary influences, types of ship, the depiction of storms at sea and shipwrecks, nautical cartography as well as Austrian seafaring and European marine painting.
The catalogue of approximately 240 pages will be published in German

The exhibition will be on display from 16 July to 1 November 2005

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