This remarkable painting by Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, the founder of the European marine painting shows a pinas in a storm surrounded by whales in the dark swirling green waves.
The presence of large fish or whale is a common motif in the early part of the century and generally represents the unknown, monstrous dangers of the deep. This allegorical scene might refer to potential danger rather than certain danger. This would have, also, carried moral overtones for a seventeenth century audience.
In this case, it could also represent whaling, as an exceptionally dangerous business both physically and economically. Whaling was considered an admirable occupation. Oil was needed for light and lubrication; baleen was needed for skirt hoops and corset stays. That whales had to die to provide these things is a fact of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century life.
The ship as a symbol was open to a number of different interpretations, from the ‘Ship of State’ to the ‘Ship of Life’. Metaphorically, the spectator would be reminded that the safe stewardship of a ship demanded vigilance, wisdom, caution and prudence and, in case of the ‘Ship of Life’, God’s guidance.
The artist has shown members of the crew to indicate that they are in control and will steer the ship to safety but must exercise vigilance, care and watchfulness. There is an emphasis on human perseverance in the face of great peril.
On account of its dimensions this storm was in past literature thought to be a fragment of a bigger painting. However, recent technical studies reveal, that the painting never has been shortened and at completion was already square.
Supposedly, it was part of a decoration program. From records of Prins Frederik Hendrik we can deduce that this or a very similar one was hanging as a ‘supraporta’ in the west-wing of the ‘Huis ter Nieuburg’ were Amalia van Solms had her private quarters. The ‘Huis ter Nieuburg’ near Rijswijk was completed in 1634, probably to the design of Jacques de Vallee and served as residence of the House of Orange. The decoration program under the supervision of Jacob van Campen was completed in 1638, just two years before Vroom’s death. The dilapidated building was demolished in 1709.
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