World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Figurehead (object)

Article Id: WHEBN0000206580
Reproduction Date:

Title: Figurehead (object)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Beakhead, Stem (ship), ARA Libertad (Q-2), Anthony Roll, USS Constitution
Collection: Sailboat Components, Sailing Ship Components
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

Figurehead (object)

Figurehead of the Océan.

A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and 20th centuries.

Contents

  • History 1
    • Decline in use 1.1
  • Images 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
  • Further reading 6

History

Figurehead Hall at Marinmuseum, Karlskrona Sweden

Although earlier ships had often had some form of bow ornamentation (e.g. the Viking ships of ca. A.D. 800–1100), the general practice was introduced with the galleons of the 16th century, as the figurehead as such could not come to be until ships had an actual stemhead structure on which to place it.[1] The menacing appearance of toothy and bug-eyed figureheads on Viking ships also had the protective function of warding off evil spirits.[2] The Egyptians placed figures of holy birds on the prow while the Phoenicians used horses representing speed. The Ancient Greeks used boars' heads to symbolise acute vision and ferocity while Roman boats often mounted a carving of a centurion representing valour in battle. In northern Europe, serpents, bulls, dolphins and dragons were customary and by the 13th Century, the swan was used representing grace and mobility.[3]

As with the stern ornamentation, the purpose of the figurehead was often to indicate the name of the ship in a non-literate society (albeit in a sometimes very convoluted manner); and always, in the case of naval ships, to demonstrate the wealth and might of the owner. At the height of the Baroque period, some ships boasted gigantic figureheads, weighing several tons and sometimes twinned on both sides of the bowsprit.

The figurehead of ship Aris -1821-, National Historical Museum, Athens.

A large figurehead, being carved from massive wood and perched on the very foremost tip of the hull, adversely affected the sailing qualities of the ship. This, and cost considerations, led to figureheads being made dramatically smaller during the 18th century, and in some cases they were abolished altogether around 1800. After the Napoleonic wars they made something of a comeback, but were then often in the form of a small waist-up bust rather than the oversized full figures previously used. The clipper ships of the 1850s and 1860s customarily had full figureheads, but these were relatively small and light.

Decline in use

The figurehead of HMS Warrior. Other than HMS Rodney, HMS Warrior and her sister ship HMS Black Prince were the last British battleships to carry the feature.[4]
The "Imperator" eagle figurehead
The figurehead of USS Lancaster carved by John Haley Bellamy and on display at The Mariners' Museum

Figureheads as such died out with the military sailing ship. In addition the vogue for ram bows meant that there was no obvious place to mount one on battleships.[4] An exception was HMS Rodney which was the last British battleship to carry a figurehead.[4] Smaller ships of the royal navy continued to carry them. The last example may well have been the sloop HMS Cadmus launched in 1903.[5] Early steamships did sometimes have gilt scroll-work and coats-of-arms at their bows. This practice lasted up until about World War I. The 1910 German liner SS Imperator originally sported a large bronze figurehead of an eagle (the Imperial German symbol) standing on a globe. The few extra feet of length added by the figurehead made the Imperator the longest ship in the world at the time of her launch.

It is still common practise for warships to carry ships' badges, large plaques mounted on the superstructure with a unique design relating to the ship's name or role. For example Type 42 Destroyers of the Royal Navy, which are named after British cities, carry badges depicting the coat of arms of their namesake.

On smaller vessels, the billethead might be substituted. This was a smaller, nonfigural carving, most often a curl of foliage.[6][7]

In Germany, Belgium, and Holland, it was once believed that spirits/faeries called Kaboutermannekes (gnomes/little men (faeries)) dwelt in the figureheads. The spirit guarded the ship from sickness, rocks, storms, and dangerous winds. If the ship sank, the Kaboutermannekes guided the sailors' souls to the Land of the Dead. To sink without a Kaboutermanneke condemned the sailor's soul to haunt the sea forever, so Dutch sailors believed. A similar belief was found in early Scandinavia/Vikings.

Images

See also

References

  1. ^ Stackpole, Edouard A. (1964). Figureheads & ship carvings at Mystic Seaport. Marine Historical Association. Retrieved 2012-11-14. 
  2. ^ British Museum, Viking Ship's Figurehead, found in East Flanders
  3. ^ "Ship's figureheads". Research. Royal Naval Museum Library. 2000. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  4. ^ a b c  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ "Terminology from the Age of Sail: Billethead". 
  7. ^ """Billethead from Ship "Favorite. National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2012-11-14. 

External links

  • The Figurehead Archive
  • [2]
  • Figureheads
  • The Mariners' Museum Figurehead Collection
  • Winchester, Clarence, ed. (1937), "Ships' figureheads", Shipping Wonders of the World, pp. 776–780 

Further reading

  • Pulvertaft, David ; foreword by Admiral the Lord Boyce. Figureheads of the Royal Navy. Barnsley, S. Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing.  
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.