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Distributed for Royal Museums Greenwich

Figureheads

On the Bow of the Ship

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.

160 pages | 60 color plates | 6 x 8

History:


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