Ships Figureheads

Since the time of the Phoenicians, sailors adorned the prows of their galleys with wooden likenesses. The Carthaginians used carved figures to head up their warships. These ship’s figureheads sustained the maritime belief that these sculptured images were guardians of the vessel and would frighten enemy ships. The Vikings believed the damage to their figureheads meant disaster.

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About Ship’s Figureheads

Earlier this year, a model of a ship’s figurehead was sold at Bonhams in London, after 220 years hidden away from public view, its true significance as an icon of Britain’s naval heritage unrecognized. This small yet exquisitely carved limewood and gesso-covered model is the design for the full-length figurehead of HMS Queen Charlotte, launched on 15 April 1790 at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. She was at the time the second-largest vessel in the British fleet. Such models are rare. A number of letters in the Admiralty archives suggest that as well as sketches of proposed figureheads, models were also submitted to the Board of the Admiralty for approval. One of the most important survivors is the 1765 model for the figurehead of HMS Victory, in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.  Read the rest of the article…