A Dismasted Ship in a Rough Sea

An interpretation of a rough sea, where a dismasted ship is shown in port-broadside view. Although a stormy squall is indicated on the left there is blue sky on the right. The ship has lost her mainmast and although her sails have been lowered she appears to be heading for the rocks on the left. Three Moorish figures are seated on these rocks watching the struggles of the ship. An English ship on far right flies the 1625-1707 pattern red ensign. In the background, a mountainous Mediterranean island looms up, its peaks lost in clouds, while a fort stands on an outcrop on the coastline. There are also ships in the far distance to right, together with a wreck on the coast to the left.

While the presence of the three Moors may imply a romantic visualization of the Straits of Gibraltar, another reading of the painting identifies the scene as a representation of the shipwreck of St Paul on Malta. Although the work is painted in a broad atmospheric and realistic style a further interpretation identifies symbolic allusions. The ship may be understood either as the ship of the Church, or the human soul, steered through the stormy seas of human life. Safety is assured so long as the mast, in the form of the Cross, remains unbroken. The rock of Christ, whose figure may be represented in a lighted doorway on the right, offers sanctuary to the souls of men. Thus, a ship is wrecked through the lack of human faith.

Peeters specialized in such work and the increasing affluence of the Dutch merchant classes led to a demand for small-scale cabinet pictures like this to hang in domestic interiors. Born in Antwerp, he was made a Master of the Guild of Antwerp in 1634. The painting is inscribed on the rocks on the far left.

Object Details

ID: BHC0761
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Peeters, Bonaventura
Date made: mid-17th century; 1635
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Ingram Collection
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Ingram Collection
Measurements: Painting: 406 mm x 711 mm; Frame: 590 mm x 889 mm x 80 mm

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