Art: Maritime Dioramas

28 May, 2010 at 8:35 pm Leave a comment

I’m currently working on a diorama which will eventually house my navy dolls (among them Admiral Lord Collingwood, also known as Old Cudd(l)y). That’s the perfect excuse to have a closer look at a fascinating sub-category of model making: maritime dioramas.

A diorama is a three-dimensional miniature model, sometimes inside a glass case or dome. If we go by that definition, we could say that bottle ships are the most popular and best known dioramas. I don’t know where the following comes from, and it’s probably not the type of bottle ship you’re used to, but you must admit: it’s amazing.

Sailors often spent their spare time with carving or model making, and of course they drew their inspiration from their environment. Some dioramas show ships, others scenes of daily naval life. Here you can see a wonderful example, dating back to the Napoleonic wars and of British origin, showing French prisoners of war. If you look very closely, you can see that one man in the diorama is working on a ship model – so it’s a model-in-a-model. Amazing detail and exquisite work, but at the same time, also a very touching historical artifact sized 12 x 4.5 x 6 inches.

The diorama above comes from OneOfAKindAntiques.com – to see more dioramas, enter “diorama” in the search box and hit enter. You’ll be shown the dioramas which are currently on sale. To see all items, you’ll have to check the “search archived/sold items” box in the top right corner and hit enter again. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s not, and trust me, it’s worth it.

Model making was also a way for prisoners of war to pass their time and maybe earn a little money by selling their artworks to the locals. The following diorama is the work of a French Prisoner of War during the Napoleonic Wars. It shows the model of a 76 gun ship of the line and was made in ca. 1800 and measures 15 x 7 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches.

This diorama here is absolutely stunning. Again the work of a French POW, it’s carved from ivory and measures 10 1/4 x 4 x 8 1/4 inches.

If you should ever visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, please make sure that you’ll see the dioramas they have on display. Some of them feature glass paintings which, if a candle is lit behind the case, gives a convincing illusion of movement. They are far more luxurious and glamorous than the models you can see in this post, but it’s probably the work of the ordinary sailors who gives us the  most accurate portrayal of daily life.

If you’re curious now and would like to see more, here are some links for you:

Maritime dioramas at Clipper Maritime Antiques

Tall Ship Museum in Hamburg / Germany: Slide show of over 50 maritime dioramas

Maritime dioramas at Land and Sea Collection

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Entry filed under: 18th century, art, resource, royal navy, ships. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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