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S o c i e t A m b i e n t e P r o d u z i o n e


dei relitti postmedievali
a cura di Carlo Beltrame


Il volume, che raccoglie undici contributi di archeologi

marittimi di molti paesi, ha lobiettivo di accendere i riflettori sulle enormi potenzialit dei relitti di et storica,
mettendo a confronto, da un lato, approcci diversi (di
ambito mediterraneo ma anche statunitense, australiano e nord europeo), dallaltro, contesti archeologici con
caratteristiche altrettanto diverse per lambiente di giacitura e per limpiego civile o militare dellimbarcazione. Gli studi, diacronici ma incentrati sul Cinquecento
e sullOttocento, coprono le varie sfaccettature dellindagine storica dei relitti di et postmedievale quali la
costruzione navale, il commercio e la vita di bordo, ma
anche aspetti di tipo squisitamente metodologico quali
larcheologia sperimentale navale. Si tratta di una novit assoluta per leditoria scientifica italiana in cui questo
particolare, ma molto promettente, ambito della ricerca
archeologica non aveva ancora trovato adeguato spazio.


dei relitti

of Post-Medieval

a cura di Carlo Beltrame


ISSN 1592-5935
ISBN 978-88-7814-618-1

AllInsegna del Giglio

dei relitti postmedievali
of Post-Medieval Shipwrecks

a cura di
edited by
Carlo Beltrame


Editoriale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Carlo Beltrame, Introduzione . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Carlo Beltrame, Premessa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
1. Metodologia
Vibeke Bischoff, Anton Englert, Sren Nielsen, Morten Ravn, Post-excavation documentation,
reconstruction and experimental archaeology applied to clinker-built ship-finds from Scandinavia . . . . . . . . 21
Mark Staniforth, Jun Kimura, L Thi Lien, Defeating the fleet of Kublai Khan: the Bach Dang River
and Van Don Naval battlefields research project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
2. relitti
Max Gurout, Epave de la Lomellina (1516). Systme dpuisement des eaux de cale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Renato Gianni Ridella, Francesco Laratta, Un cannone veneziano fuso nel 1518 per gli Ospedalieri
di San Giovanni a Rodi, dal mare della Calabria (loc. Porticciolo, Isola di Capo Rizzuto KR) . . . . . . . . . 63
Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld, Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships.
A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Eric Rieth, The 18th century EP 1-Epagnette wreck, River Somme (France): a first assessment
of the underwater excavations (2011-2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Marcel Pujol i Hamelink, Pablo de la Fuente de Pablo, Roses II or Lamproie: a French storeship sunk
in 1809 at the Bay of Roses (Catalonia, Spain) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .129
Francesca Bertoldi, Carlo Beltrame, Carlotta Sisalli, Human skeletal remains from the shipwreck
of the brig Mercurio (1812) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .145
Stefania Manfio, La cucina del relitto del brig Mercurio (1812) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .157
Deborah Cvikel, Yaacov Kahanov, The Ottoman period shipwrecks of Dor (Tantura) Lagoon, Israel . . . . . . 177
Kroum Batchvarov, Rigging and sailing the Kitten ship: a hypothetical reconstruction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
3. recensioni
Mauro Librenti, Sveti Pavao Shipwreck, A 16th Century Venetian Merchantman, from Mljet, Croatia,
by Carlo Beltrame, Sauro Gelichi and Igor Miholjek, Oxbow Books, Oxford 2014. . . . . . . . . . . . . 203

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships.

A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology
Massimiliano Ditta*, Jens Auer*, Thijs Maarleveld*

Hoover, Hoover 1950) can be studied archaeologically (Willies 1982; Tylecote 1992; Molenda 2001; Chirikure et al. 2010; Maarleveld,
Overmeer 2012). The practices and technology
certainly developed long before they became the
object of study of universal scientists and long
before they were committed to paper and print.
So, practice and technology preceded intellectual
discussion of theory and ideas. Specific aspects of
metal-working, notably gun-founding, follow their
own logic (Guilmartin 2003; Beltrame, Ridella
2011). Guns, after all, are at the key of military
efforts and strategic investments, and subject to
scientific research with that specific perspective.
In such a military context transfer of knowledge
and transfer of technology are very closely connected. So, in that sense, Cipollas emphasis on
guns is well-chosen. The logic of present-day
military-industrial espionage and promotion and
prevention of transfer of ideas and technology can
probably be used to explain historical processes in
this specific technological domain. In relation to
naval shipbuilding, the extensive espionage that
Colbert commissioned in order to strengthen the
navy of Louis XIV (Rieth 1984; Ferreiro 2007,
pp. 64-67) certainly suggests a similar model of
explanation for ships and maritime technology
at large. But is it as simple as that? What about
Early Modern merchant ships as opposed to naval
technology? How does the one feed into the other
and the other into the one? But, more importantly,
are ideas and technology indeed spread in the same
way and at the same pace? Or is practical entropy in
the way, and are technological messages translated
and transformed, rather than transmitted?
In this article such questions will be explored and
illustrated in view of several different strands of
research. First, the spread of ideas relating to the
harmonious modelling and design of well-proportioned ships will be explored from the perspective
of the history of ideas. This section is more about
mathematics, architects and mathematicians than
it is about practical shipbuilders. In a way, it takes
up the issues discussed in the inspiring volume
Creating Shapes in Civil and Naval Architecture
(Nowacki, Lefvre 2009). As the connection

1. Introduction
Archaeological research of the remains of Early
Modern merchant ships is gradually helping us to
understand the technicalities of what is so easily
indicated as transfer of technology in the Early
Modern period. In a repetition of the idea ex oriente lux, a repetition that perhaps even is implied in
the term Renaissance itself, the simplified template
of thinking is that ideas and technology travelled
from east to west and from Renaissance Italy to
northern Europe. Such a simplified approach is
certainly fostered by Carlo M. Cipollas seminal
book of 1965 with its title Guns, sails and Empires,
Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of
European expansion, 1400-1700 (Cipolla 1965).
But is the template supported by the actual material
that has been preserved in the archaeological record
and whose analysis is gradually becoming available
and putting the template to the test? Partly perhaps,
and quite apart from the archaeological evidence
there is no question that ideas in that specific period have been shared by a growing number of lucid
and enlightened intellectuals. Although the spread
of ideas in this particular period certainly followed
other mechanisms than the models for the spread
of agriculture or human populations with which
Luigi Cavalli-Sforza (Ammerman, Cavalli-Sforza
1973; Cavalli-Sforza, Cavalli-Sforza 1995) has
influenced prehistoric archaeology, there can be
no doubt that an intensified spread of intellectual
concepts and ideas occurred and that Italy was one
of its nodal points. There is equally no doubt that
this spread was closely related to the introduction
of paper, relief printing and the practical use of the
printing press (Cohen 2010).
But is the spread of ideas the same as transfer of
technology? Does transfer of technology follow
the spread of ideas? Or is it the other way round?
Metals, metallurgy and the archaeology of mining
are an obvious field where such questions can be
addressed, and where the practical background for
Biringuccios and Agricolas scientific work of the
16th century (Stanley Smith, Teach Gnudi 1990;
* University of Southern Denmark.

Archeologia Postmedievale
18, 2014, pp. 83-104

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

respected mathematician as well. In fact, his early

work involved algebraic solutions pertaining to
Descartes folium and sections of the cone, issues
that are relevant to the present discussion (de
Waard 1911). Even if Ole Judichaers thinking had
Dutch inspirations, however, his approaches are
far off from contemporary practice in Holland in
terms of ship design and construction technology.
Last, but not least some discussion will be devoted
to Early Modern England, for which the analysis
of the Princes Channel wreck (Auer, Maarleveld
2014) has confirmed that Venetian methods of
design, as recommended by Mathew Baker in
Fragments of Ancient Shipwrightry were indeed en
vogue in Bakers time, but not to the full extent,
and not with the desired result. The article will
conclude with some further considerations on how
practice influences thinking, and how hard it is to
force new concepts, whatever their scientific status,
onto long established practice in the crafts.

between Italy and the rich source material in Spain

and Portugal (and their dependencies) is relatively
well studied (e.g. Da Gama Pimentel Barata et
al. 1996; Alves 2001; Castro, Custer 2008), the
focus will be on the connexion between Italy and
central Europe, not a shipbuilding area perhaps,
but a centre of book production and learning and
of great influence to northern Europe. Surprisingly,
Albrecht Drer (1471-1528), better known for
his striking engravings of religious motives or his
portraits of contemporary humanists than for any
skills in shipbuilding, takes a central place in this
discussion. The relevance is that in the seething
Renaissance as we conceive it, the skills of artists,
architects and mathematicians frequently coincide,
whereas some mathematicians Thomas Harriot
(c. 1560-1621) is an early example in England apply their mathematical knowledge as shipbuilders
or by imposing it on those who are.
As a sequence to this, the practice of Ole Judichaer
(1661-1729) will be presented, a young mathematician again, who built warships rather than
merchant ships for the Danish king at the end of
the seventeenth century. The section derives from
Massimiliano Dittas work on Early Modern (war-)
ship models kept in the Royal Danish Naval Museum in Copenhagen (Ditta 2014).
Subsequently, building on the work of Leme
(2006), Hoving (2012) and Maarleveld (2013)
practice and theory in the Low Countries will be
discussed on the basis of the limited written technical sources and the growing body of archaeological material. In view of the general discussion on
transfer of technology, it is interesting to note that
Ole Judichaers work displays aspects that conform
to the (intellectual) discussions and practice associated with Italy and with developments in architecture. His experience in the Mediterranean however
is limited or non-existent and he claims to derive
his ideas from the Dutch Republic. Intellectually
and mathematically, this can well have been the
case. Simon Stevin (1548-1620) and Christiaan
Huygens (1629-1695) come to mind as authoritatively representing the creative mathematical and
engineering milieu. But it is equally noteworthy
that Johannes Hudde (1628-1704), who was to
be burgomaster of Amsterdam at the start of Judichaers career, and who somewhat earlier and
in response to a dispute over the Danish rules applied for levying toll has designed the alternative
tonnage calculations that are integrally inserted in
Witsens Aeloude en Hedendaegsche Scheeps-bouw
en Bestier (Witsen 1671, pp. 242-247) was a

2. Albrecht Drer and a worldview dominated

by geometry
Towards the end of the 15th century, Albrecht
Drer became one of the leading artists in Renaissance Europe who created a sensible connection
between art and science. He never referred to himself as a scientist or mathematician, but extensively
used geometry in his pursuit of beauty. As a sort of
Poeta Vate hovering between scientific investigation
and craft, he elevated the figure of the craftsman to
that of the artist. He claimed that this was attained
by the pursuit of wide-ranging knowledge and the
perfection of skills while grounding them in theory.
Indeed, Drer allegedly coined the German word
for art: Kunst, derived from the verb knnen, to
know (Dominiczak 2012, p. 1170). Besides his
art, he produced texts that did not only reach fellow
artists but which influenced renowned mathematicians as Tartaglia (1499/1500-1557) and Cardano
(1501-1576), as well as famous scientists such
as Galilei (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630)
(Silver 2012, p. 408).
Drer was born in Nuremberg into a goldsmith
family and already at the age of 14, he was apprenticed to the painter and illustrator Michael
Wolgemut (1434-1519), a pioneer of printing and
woodcut design. In his artistic career, Drer went
to Venice twice, first in 1494 and a second time in
the early 1500eds. During his first visit he probably
came in contact with the Venetian artist Jacopo d

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

and is the first work of this kind to be written in

German. In fact, it is the first to release the notions of Greek mathematicians such as Euclid and
Apollonius from their philological restraints. The
eclectic handbook opens with the definition of a
line, moving through the descriptions of spirals,
conchoids and it closes with the presentation of
elaborate mechanical devices for accurate drawing
in perspective (fig. 1). Moreover, the construction
of regular polygons and polyhedrons are given and
explained. The definitions and constructions of
geometrical figures are clearly drawn from the Elements of Euclid, while the whole book dedicated to
architecture is derived from the work of Vitruvius.
The most relevant elements of his treatise in the
present context are related to the re-discovery of
the concept of conic sections ellipse, parabola,
and hyperbola and their representation. On this
topic Drer learned most of what he knew from
his friend and mentor Johannes Werner (14681528). Werner was not only a mathematician but
also an astronomer, instrument maker, and priest.
Since the invention of conic sections, which is
attributed to Menaechmus (4th century BC), the
most complete study on the matter including
the terminology and definitions that Drer used
was conducted by Apollonius of Perga (c. 262-c.
190 BC) who wrote it down in 8 books. The first
original work on conic sections since the time of
Apollonius was written by Werner. It appeared in
1522 (Koudela 2005, p. 198). This means that
the work of Drer and Werner were the best accessible on the matter until Apollonius treatise was
republished in Venice in 1541 (Rosin 2001, p. 59).
Whereas Werner mainly focused on the study of
the parabola and hyperbola for solving the duplication of the cube (Koudela 2005, p. 198), Drer
was primarily interested in the graphical construction of these figures. By using his craftsmans tools
Drer aimed to translate and transform them into
the improved painters art. Hence, his understanding of and approach to the conics is more intuitive
rather than purely mathematical (Pack 1996). His
ingenuity is evident in the construction of the
ellipse, which in German he called the egg line
(eyer linie). Also, despite his own evidence, Drer
constructed the ellipse as an egg-shaped figure,
without the full symmetry of a truly mathematical
one (fig. 2). It is a mistake that persisted in German
works for nearly a century (Silver 2012, p. 412).
As already mentioned, the most significant element
in Drers Underweysung der Messung, besides the
reinvention of conics as such, is the technique used

fig. 1 Albrechts Drers Underweysung der Messung was printed in

Nuremberg in 1525. It is best known for its presentation of elaborate
mechanical devices for drawing in perspective, as on this final woodcut.
Even more fundamentally important, however, is the definition
and construction of geometrical figures, such as regular polygons
and polyhedrons, of conic sections: ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola.
Compare the image with fig. 11. (Folio Riii, SLUB Dresden).

Barbari (c.1465-c.1515) and learned about linear

perspective (Morrall 2011, p. 109). The visit
seems to have been a formative experience for the
young Drer. It defined his attitude toward the arts
and he became convinced that the secret of beauty
could be revealed through the use of mathematics
(Silver 2012, p. 409). During his second visit to
Venice he purchased a copy of Euclids work and
visited Bologna to learn the secrets of the art of
perspective (Morrall 2011, p. 110), two facts
that clearly show his interest in mathematics and
On his return to Nuremberg, a motivated Drer
began to write an ambitious handbook which
addressed all the disciplines of artists. The work
entitled Underweysung der Messung was printed
in Nuremberg in 1525, just three years before
Drers death. The manual is divided in 4 books

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

Drer with his Underweysung der Messung was able

to transform a common technique of masons and
goldsmiths into a mode of representation, as well as
introducing projective representation into the core
of craft practice and laying a solid foundation for
the modern means of representation in architecture
(Pack 1996, p. 29).
While Drer with his writings connected the
two different worlds of theory and practice, his
approach was at the same time part of the world
around him. His focus is on revealing to craftsmen
how to construct geometrical entities, by being able
to describe them, if not understand them. Both
Renaissance artists and scientists conceived of the
surrounding world as an assemblage of entities that
make up a coherent and harmonious whole.
A valid general statement about the Renaissance
mind is that it investigates the structure of an object or a system, as that structure reveals the divine
design (Darst 1983, p. 77). In a way the effort of
Renaissance thinking is directed towards fitting the
world into a mental construction in order to find
symmetrical and harmonic structures that bind
the parts to the whole. Thus, everything can be
described arithmetically and geometrically. Or, to
say it in the words of Nicola di Cusa: Mathematics
are a very great help in the understanding of different divine truths (De docta ignorantia, 1440).

fig. 2 Albrecht Drers ingenuity is evident in the construction of

the ellipse, as illustrated in his Underweysung der Messung. Quite
aptly, he called the ellipse eyer linie, because notwithstanding his
own reasoning and evidence, he constructed the ellipse as an eggshaped figure, without full mathematical symmetry. It is a mistake
that stuck (Folio Ciiii, SLUB Dresden).

3. Ellipses everywhere, from Drer to Ole


for drawing them. The method employed by Drer

is a series of parallel projections, a technique that
was familiar to every architect and carpenter but
that had never before been applied to the solution
of a purely mathematical problem (Panofsky
1971, p. 255). But in fact the transformation
which Drer effected was of a radical nature (Pack
1996, p. 28). The masons technique had not been
representational and had not been applied to a
representational problem in another realm. Drers
transformation, however, entailed the extraction
and isolation of the formal aspect of the masons
operation, away from practice, away from the real
life situation, away from the material. Consequently, this formal aspect was then representationally
redeployed on the abstract surface of a blank page
of paper (Pack 1996, p. 28). Thus, Drers work
was able to bridge and connect the isolated world of
mathematical speculation and actual craft practice.

The Renaissance emphasis on geometry was married to a sense of an expanding world. This was
due to the explorations, to Copernicus groundbreaking cosmological concepts and Keplers
theory of the planets. In architecture elliptical
orbits were translated as the form that represents
stretching of space: the ellipse that stretches the
circle. The ellipse was thus designed to have an
emotional impact on the viewer (Hammond et al.
2005, p. 178). The new vision of the world and
interest in the elliptical forms strongly determined
baroque architecture of Europe. As such, the ellipse
can be regarded as symbol of the shift between
the Renaissance and Baroque worlds. Although
several Italian renaissance architects had already
used elliptical shapes in their constructions, it was
the civil architects of seventeenth century Europe
that really developed a passion for the elliptic form.
This reflects the mathematical and astronomical
enthusiasm for the ellipse as geometrical figure

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

(Proia and Menghini 1984, p. 209). Astronomy,

stirred by the heliocentric theory of Copernicus at
the end of the 16th century, focused on the form
of the orbit of a planet. Johannes Kepler (15711630) reconstructed the orbit of Mars, with the
help of the observations of the eminent Danish
astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), and came
to the conclusion that the only possible form had
to be elliptical (Mazer 2010, p. 260). A letter
written to fellow astronomer David Fabricius
(1564-1617), and dated October 11, 1605, reveals
that Kepler had read Drers description of conics:
So, Fabricius, I already have this: that the most
true path of the planet [Mars] is an ellipse, which
Drer also calls an oval, or certainly so close to an
ellipse that the difference is insensible. Keplers
ideas reached Italy, both through his works and
through direct contacts with Galilei. The impact
and resonance in intellectual and artistic circles
seems to have been substantial. It is remarkable that
Italian architects started to develop an interest for
the elliptical form just at the time when the works
of Kepler, Copernicus and Galilei were banned in
1616 (Proia, Menghini 1984, p. 205).
In theory, the construction of the ellipse is prominent in architectural treatises all through the Baroque period. In practice, however, it was rarely
used because of the difficulty of reproducing it.
Complex aspects of geometry were in fact always
tempered by the common sense of the builder and
the necessity of quickly erecting a solid structure
(Huerta 2008, p. 245). Instead of ellipses, oval
shapes were preferred. An oval was considered
a close approximation of the ellipse even by
Kepler but far more practical. The geometrical
difficulties of laying out an oval were resolved by
the simplest methods, through the use of triangles
and circles, as already found in the late Renaissance
with Serlios treatise from 1537 (Rosin 2001, p.
In 17th century England, a long debate started
among shipwrights about the best form for the
rising-line of the floor. It is a (ship-)architectural
concept that is central to some design traditions,
if not for others. In an anonymous treatise from
1628 the ellipse form, extracted by a mathematical method using trigonometry, is suggested as the
most suitable (Lavery 1984, p. 14). For the rest of
the 17th century the elliptical rising-line does not
seem to be proposed again, but evidently there is
a lack of early lines plans. At the end of the 17th
century, Sir Anthony Deane (1638-1721) adopted
a mechanical approach. He used sweeps, reflecting

fig. 3 The life-size ellipsograph that the engineer Renau

dlissagaray used for the construction of elliptical curves on timber
for a man-of-war as illustrated on folio 13 of his Mmoire sur la
construction des vaisseaux dans lequel il y a une mthode pour
en constuire les faons of the early 1680ies. The ellipsograph allows
for the drawing of a quarter section of an ellipse, but the setting of
sliding points a and b is very sensitive. It needs careful algebraic
elaboration of the equations to produce the exact desired ellipse.
(Archives Nationales: Mar D1 10; after Brioist, Vrin 2008).

the use of the circle for defining the rising-line

(as well as the rest of the hull), which according
to Deanes words was found to be the best shape
after he tried both elliptical and diminishing lines
(Deane, Lavery 1981, p. 60).
In French naval architecture, there was likewise a
short period of using the ellipse for defining the
rising-line, although this was somewhat later. In
1680, the method of Louis XIVs engineer Renau
dlissagaray (1652-1719) for the construction of
a man-of-war was applied for the first time (Vrin
2008). Renaus approach was the result of a long
debate regarding the best shape for the hull of a
vessel which blazed between mathematicians and
naval engineers in the last decades of the 17th
century (Ferreiro 2007, 52ff). Indeed, where
geometry alone was not able to justify what was
needed; physics, astronomy and the harmony of
spheres provided an answer. The French royal engineer came to the conclusion that the best ship

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

fig. 4 Sheer plan of Prinz Carl/Prinz Wilhelm, designed by Ole Judichaer in December 1695. It is the first official plan that bears his
signature. The rising line is elliptical in that it is constructed out of two quarter sections of two different ellipses. (Danish National Archive:
Setaten kort og tegningssamling: A992).

form had to be an ellipse and elaborated his own

method for the design of the hull, where segments
of ellipse had to be used. The curves were designed
through the use of a special ellipsograph (fig. 3).
But first, reference points for each curve and a
long set of algebraic equations for the machine
needed to be established (Brioist, Vrin 2008).
Renaus reasoning was based in the most modern
mathematical ideas of his day. Renaus ellipses were
the result of algebraic equations and the operation of elementary geometry. They were thus an
example of what Descartes (1596-1650) defined as
a geometrical curve as opposed to a mechanical
curve that results from the practical use of simple
appliances, such as strings, nails and battens (Ferreiro 2007, p. 43). Despite the construction of
several frigates and the successful 56-gun Le Bon
(Vrin 2008, p. 194), Renaus method was rapidly
abandoned. The problem was the inconvenience
of a full scale ellipsograph and the mathematical
knowledge required to work out the equations.
Too much could go wrong. Although the French
constructors were highly trained with practical
knowledge of arithmetic and geometry, they often
had little formal education. The mathematical basis
necessary for this method, unlike the application
of mechanical curves that could actually be drawn
by means of sweeps, was far beyond a practical approach (Ferreiro 2007, p. 74).
Contemporary to Renau dlissagaray, the application of the ellipse in naval architecture made its
appearance in Denmark. The Danish mathematician and theologian Ole Judichr (1661-1729),
student of the scientist Ole Rmer (1644-1710),
entered the ranks of the navy in 1690, with a posi-

tion at the naval shipyard of Bremerholm. In 1692

his career took a dramatic leap forward when he
was officially appointed fabrikmester, a position he
would keep until his dismissal in 1727 (Bricka et
al. 1887, p. 555). The position was created with a
view to supervise and control shipbuilding procedures. However, under Judichr, the first to hold
the post, it quickly evolved from that of a process
manager into that of an actual designer or naval
architect (Bjerg, Erichsen 1980, p. 16). From
1695 onwards Judichrs name will officially appear on lines plans used in ship construction. The
first drawings to bear his signature are those for the
sister-ships Prinz Carl and Prinz Wilhelm, launched
in 1696 (fig. 4).
The analysis of the body plan of the sister-ships
shows that the underwater hull was designed with
the use of two circular non-tangential sweeps according to a proportion taken from the maximum
breadth. In some aspects this approach is similar to
what can be found both in the master frame design
of the Frenchman Dassi and in the theoretical
construct given by Witsen, which will be discussed
below. Moreover and more importantly in the
present context the analysis reveals an interesting
insight in the use of the ellipse. The rising line of
the floor, the curve of the outer ends of the floor
timbers, was identified by Probst (1993, p. 31-33)
as a line composed of two segments of two different
ellipses. This characteristic is present in all sheer
plans Judichr drafted during his career. Probst
came to his conclusions thanks to what is considered the first Danish text on naval architecture
(Rasmussen 1986, p. 28). The 12 page booklet
with the title Een liden Se-Architectur was writ88

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

ten in 1723 by Lauritz Bragenes (1687-1729), a

student of Judichr.
In the treatise Bragenes describes the three conic
sections and explains the method of calculation of
sections of ellipses through the use of descriptive
geometry and a table (fig. 5). The method he used
to create an ellipse is known in architecture as the
lengthened arc: to create an ellipse with given
dimensions for the two axes, a quarter of an arc is
drawn with a radius of one half of the minor axis.
The base of the figure so created is divided in four
equal parts and vertical lines are drawn. The lines
are transposed and doubled (mirrored) on the
length of the major axis which has been divided
in eight equal parts. A similar method, using
twelve rather than four or eight control points had
been published in Drers handbook (fig. 6). The
method consists in first inscribing the semicircle in
a rectangle with a 1: 2 ratio. Subsequently, the base
of the rectangle is divided in twelve equal parts and
vertical lines are drawn. Another rectangle of the
same height and of the desired length is drawn and
the base is divided in the same number of parts;
again, vertical lines are drawn. The intersection of
these lines with the horizontal lines from the intersection of the semicircle with the vertical lines in
the first rectangle will give the points of the desired
arch. The curve created with this method is an ellipse, yet Drer does not mention it. In fact, it was
only in 1640 that the mathematician Paul Guldin
(1577-1643) discovered the elliptical nature of the
curve (Huerta 2008, p. 224).
The methods Judichr adopts sit somewhat midway in architectural theory. On the one hand
he uses geometrical curves in the pure Cartesian

fig. 5 In his Een liden Se-Architectur of 1723 Lauritz Bragenes

explains how to create an ellipse with given dimensions for the two
axes by the method known as lengthened arc. Bragenes was a student
of Judichr. His method echoes Drers approach, although he only
uses 8 sections rather than 12. See also fig. 6.

fig. 6 Drers very clear explanatory drawing of the lengthened arc method of constructing half an ellipse. Strangely enough Drer does
not mention the elliptical nature of the curve, which mathematically spoken is more correct than his egg-line. In fact, it was only in 1640
that this was discovered by the mathematician Paul Guldin (Underweysung der Messung folio Ciii; Bibliothque Nationale).


Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

meaning, just like Renau. On the other, he also uses

mechanical curves, just like Deane. The frame sections for the hull are traced by the means of sweeps.
These are mechanical curves and consequently
easy to reproduce by the master shipbuilders. The
rising-line of the floor, however which was not a
line to be replicated on the shipyard is conceived
as a geometrical curve. It is found by means of
descriptive geometry and not easy to trace by an
The elliptical shape is a constant of 17th century
civil architecture. It probably seeped into the naval
architecture milieu as a consequence, a process
that was strengthened by developing notions in
physics and astronomy. The segments of ellipse
traced by Judichr, however, do not belong to
the early baroque practice of the oval, traced by
means of sweeps and triangles, or to the trigonometrical approach proposed in 1628, but to the
realm of descriptive geometry rooted in Drer
and mathematized by Descartes. This is not surprising since Judichr, as a mathematician, had
knowledge of Descartes works (Ditta 2014, p.
26). And through his mentor Ole Rmer, member
of the French Academy of Sciences until 1681, he
was possibly aware of the French scientific debate,
from which the method of Renau dlissagaray
emerged (Friedrichsen and Olsen 2004). These
debates could not have escaped mathematicians
and engineers in the Dutch Republic, but saw no
application in the practice of shipbuilding, as we
will see in the following.

Nevertheless that is the picture that emerges from

recent archaeological research, and the written
sources of the period relating to shipbuilding in
the Dutch Republic, need to be interpreted in that
light quite surprisingly perhaps.
The continuing tradition of off-hand boatbuilding in which a client had to fully trust the builder
for his skills in shaping a vessel to his desires and
specifications, while building it in a shell-first order,
and that survived for smaller craft right into the
20th century has been discussed in international
anthropological and archaeological literature ever
since Hasslf s seminal essay of 1972 (Hasslf
1972). That the same processes applied to the larger
merchant vessels of the Early Modern period, has
become patently obvious through the analysis of
the construction of a range of large and middle
large vessels of which the archaeological data and
contextual information have become available
over the last decades (Maarleveld 1992; 2013).
Larger flush-planked vessels, like smaller ones, were
basically built in a shell-first sequence, for which
spijkerpennen in regular perpendicular rows on
both sides of a seam in the planking are the characteristic archaeological evidence (fig. 7). These are
small wooden plugs filling a hole left by a removed
nail or spike in order to prevent the timber to rot
at that point. In transverse rows they represent
temporary clamps holding the planks together
during construction. Christian Leme convincingly showed how some of the temporary clamps
may have doubled as a mould for a particular angle
between keel and garboard or between planks at
the turn of the bilge (Leme 2006, p. 173). Guidance for angles is an important aspect in shell-first
shipbuilding (Christensen 1972; De Leeuwe
2004, pp. 31-36). Moreover, a range of analytical,
experimental and archaeological research, including that of Leme, suggests that several aids and
appliances have if necessary or useful assisted in
realizing a cross-section that is wished for (Leme
2006, p. 192). This is also confirmed by the scant
written and pictorial evidence, as well as supported
by later discussions and later ways of building a
wide variety of ship types in the Low Countries. In
fact, both the historical, the archaeological and the
anthropological evidence shows that Dutch shipbuilding or more specifically building ships in the
Dutch Flush manner comprises a whole toolbox
of skills-based rules and techniques that could be
drawn upon to support the builders eye in shaping
the hull and assisting him in control of symmetry
along the main axis. One could argue that some

4. Shipbuilding in the Dutch Republic

The shipbuilding industry in the Dutch Republic
was booming business and quite central to its
enormous economic development at the end of
the 16th century (Unger 1978; de Vries, van
der Woude 1995). Wealth and development
were overwhelming (Schama 1988) and the intellectual climate proffered every possibility for
science, art and innovation. At least, that is how
we understand or like to understand the Zeitgeist
of the Dutch Republic in the 16th, 17th and at least
the first part of the 18th centuries. But does that
mean that the two shipbuilding and scientific
innovation went hand in hand? It seems so very
likely, both to us who look at the past as a foreign
country (Lowenthal 1986) as for contemporary
observers from abroad. In fact, it is hard to imag
ine they were more or less completely separate.

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

fig. 7 Regular rows of small plugs (spijkerpennen) perpendicular to and on both sides of a seam in the planking are the characteristic
archaeological evidence for a shell-first building sequence of smaller, but also larger flush-planked vessels, as here in the outer surface of the
second strake of the Scheurrak T 24 section that was lifted in 1984. The position of the treenails (most of them dottled) reveals the position
of five floors. The small plugs reveal the position of temporary clamps during the Dutch Flush construction process (drawing: Rob Oosting).

of the approaches, and not least in relation to a

boat or ships side above the turn of the bilge are
often not so much plank-led or fully consistent
with shell-first building processes, as frame-led.
But that does not change the fact that a substantial
part of the shell of planking is formed before any
or most internal timbers are shaped and that even
when some timbers are mounted, the process of
thinking is still basically oriented towards the shell
of planking: plank-oriented to use the terminology
introduced by McGrail (1995, p. 143). All emphasis is on fairing, on smooth strakes of planking fore
and aft. The planking (huid which equals skin
or shell in Dutch) is the defining element in the
creative process, in the modelling of the ship. That
is reflected in the sequence of building: first the
planks, than the timbers.
Let us dwell some more on the simple and basic,
useful distinction that has become customary in the
nautical archaeological trade. Italian, Iberian and
many other carvel ships are shaped on the basis
of the cross-section and its physical representation,
the frame, or rather the skeleton of frames. Dutch
Flush ships are shaped on the basis of the shell
of planking. Skeleton construction versus Shell
construction. Fred Hocker (2004), in attempt to
emulate on this while integrating the analysis by
Rieth (1978), has distinguished a third principle:
bottom-based construction. It is a useful concept
to consider in our understanding of developments.
It describes the approach encountered in the construction of simple craft with a flat bottom and
steep sides. These may or may not have a central
element or keel plank, and the flat of their bot-

tom may or may not continue into swimheads

fore and aft, but a hard chine is quite characteristic
and so is the fact that the construction of the bottom and the fitting of the sides are quite separate
processes. In the Dutch Flush way of building
larger, relatively flat-bottomed ships, similar approaches are encountered. And these, as well as
shell-techniques used in hulls with overlapping
strakes, constitute the main evidence to surmise
strong traditions of continuity in shipbuilding
all through the high Middle Ages and well into
modern times. This also means, however, that shellconstruction and bottom-based construction are
not mutually exclusive. If they can be distinguished
at all, they are certainly intermingled in the Dutch
Flush solutions, where one sees a sort of constant
alternation between round-bottomed hulls, and
(cheaper!) flat-bottomed varieties (Huitema 1962;
Dorleijn 1998). As the round-bottomed vessels
often display notable s-sections in bow and stern,
and lack the clear distinction between bottom and
sides (both in form and building procedure) the
concept of bottom-based construction seems to be
less applicable to their sharpest varieties, whereas it
is perfectly applicable to the flat-bottomed vessels.
A nice example of the alternation between round
and flat-bottomed varieties is found if one considers the waterschepen of the Zuiderzee and their
cheaper flat-bottomed successors, the botter and
kwak, not to speak of the even more basic schokker and schouw, as well as the again more sophisticated round-bottomed bol, aak and blazer (figs.
8, 9). Archaeologically, a sample of 41 waterschepen,
mostly of the 16th and 17th century has been inves91

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

from overlapping to flush strakes has not led to any

fundamental changes in shape. The cross-section
is similar, although subject to quite some variety.
Formal, or rather mathematically derived criteria
or proportions do not seem to be present. This is
equally true for the simplified cross-sections of
its successors. The waterschepen and later types
mentioned are mainly fishing vessels of a reasonable size (11 to over 20 m overall), but examples
of similar alternation between complicated and
simpler flat-bottomed varieties can be found in
tidal and riverine trading vessels as well (Schutten
2004) (fig. 10). One must surmise that the same
processes determine the variety in larger merchant
ships, where prouder ships and cheaper ones alternate in similar fashion. This variety between
more accomplished hull-shapes and more box-like
ones is also what emerges from archaeology, with
Scheurrak SO1, Inschot/Zuidoostrak, B&W5
and Batavia as examples of the first, and B&W1,
Aanloop Molengat and Scheurrak T24 as examples
of the latter (Leme 2006; Van Duivenvoorde
2008; Maarleveld 2013). In terms of building
processes such variety seems to be characteristic.
It is to be explained in terms of the large degree of
freedom that the bottom-based and other Dutch
Flush approaches offered, while integrating a range

tigated (Verwey et al. 2012). The examples predating 1500 AD are all built with overlapping strakes.
In English one would say clinker-built, although
strictly speaking they are not clinkered. By the end
of the 16th century all waterschepen are built with
flush-laid planking. Interestingly, the transition

fig. 8 The Waterschip VAL7 was lifted for documentation in 2009.

Like other waterschepen it has a relatively sharp underwater hull
with a clear S-section. Although built in a Dutch Flush manner,
the concept of bottom-based construction is less appropriate for the
description of this hull (photo: Wouter Waldus).

fig. 9 The botter, in many ways a later variation of the waterschip, has the clear characteristics of bottom-based construction. The
construction of the bottom and the fitting of the sides for instance are quite separate phases in the building process. Like in other Dutch
Flush approaches, temporary clamps are used to hold the planking together. (drawing: Peter Dorleijn; Nieuwland Erfgoedcentrum).


Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

fig. 11 In his Aeloude en Hedendaegsche Scheeps-bouw en Bestier

of 1671 Nicolaes Witsen presents an approach that is often interpreted
as representing Dutch design of a master frame. Recent archaeological
and experimental research indicates that his method has no basis in
reality or practice in the shipyards of the Low Countries. It is a mental
construct that is integrated in his otherwise descriptive work to show
that Witsen is a well-read intellectual.
fig. 10 The alternation of round-bottomed ship-types and
cheaper flat-bottomed varieties can be found in tidal and riverine
trading vessels as well, as illustrated by these drawings in which a
round-bottomed tjalk and a cheaper flat-bottomed praam both
from the 19th century are juxtaposed (M. Ditta, based on van
Konijnenburg 1895-1905, III, 27 and Sopers 1947, p. 94).

very general indeed and must be taken as a set of

skills-based rules of thumb, rather than anything
else. It is quite different from proportional rules
of design that address form and section that are
so typical of the introduction of scientific, which
is mathematical, principles in Renaissance architecture, and that define the discourse on building
better, larger and more prestigious ships in other
parts of Europe from the 14th century onwards.
True, Witsen does present an approach that is
often interpreted as representing Dutch design of
a master frame (Witsen 1671, pp. 150-152) (fig.
11). But as Hoving (2012, p. 18) noted, there
is nothing that indicates that the mathematical
approach that Witsen presents relates to reality
in the shipyards of the Low Countries. It is not
corroborated by any archival material; it does not
accord with Witsens own description of the construction of a 134 foot Pinas; neither is it in fact
corroborated by archaeology. Hovings inference is
that Witsen made up his scientific model to show
that he, as a scientist, is aware of such approaches
elsewhere (Witsen 1671, pp. 195-208). Like other
intellectuals of his time, he is after all thoroughly
influenced by the world-view discussed above, in
which reality reflects a proportional masterplan
that can be mathematically described. But he is
not very firm at all, and his attempt to theoretically
describe what he observed is ill-succeeded (Hoving
2012, p. 18). This is consistent with our image of
a prudent and curious collector of information

of practices and frame oriented aids and appliances

in a shell-first building procedure.

5. Nicolaes Witsen and the interpretation of

written sources
In turn, the archaeological data on larger merchant
ships helps to guide our understanding of the
processes and technology as inferred from contemporary documents. Skills-based rules are certainly
applied. Some of these are formalised and moreor-less codified. In Witsens book of the late 17th
century quite a few of these are reproduced and
commented upon (Witsen 1671; Hoving 2012).
Besides tricks to assist in the building process,
they mostly take the form of proportions between
the scantlings of different elements, representing
adequate proportional strength (Witsen 1671,
pp. 65-117). This is similar to the rules on the
recommended weight of anchors or strengths of
cables, rigging and ropes (Witsen 1671, pp. 117133). An exception perhaps is the general table
of proportions that Witsen derives from master
shipbuilder Jan Dirrikze Grebber (Witsen 1671,
p. 114; Hoving 2012, p. 16). But this table is

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

readers, Peter was not at all satisfied with Witsens

book. He was not interested in erudite historical exposs, but in theory and the mathematical
principles applied according to the doctrine of
proportions. At first he mistrusts the sincerity of
Witsens answers. He includes work at the shipyards
in his visit to the Republic, but the shipbuilders
he consults cannot satisfy him any better and he
will prefer English doctrines after that (Peters
2010, p. 162).
There is, however, no reason to doubt Witsens
descriptive observations (Hoving 2012; Maarleveld 2013). Nor is there any reason to doubt
his sincerity, or surmise that he knowingly withheld information, as Peter suspected. The present
body of archaeological data for small, larger and
big vessels of his period, in combination with
what we can infer from longue dure development
relating to shipbuilding in the area, does hardly
allow for another interpretation, and does hardly
allow for attempts to integrate his work in overall
trends of scientific shipbuilding. Dutch practice,
while exposed to the best mathematical minds,
remained immune to their theories of section. It is
only during the 18th century that this will change,
and then only in specific institutional contexts.
The changeover, in other words, is institutionally
inspired (Maarleveld 1992, p. 169). But even
then the changeover does not interfere with the
large variety of hull forms or with the simultaneously continued practice of shell-first building
Whereas Peter was frustrated by the fact that no
theory was revealed, other late 17th century observers, such as Arnoul and Rlamb were just as
surprised. Arnoul remarks that no rules for dividing
and calculating the sweeps of the cross-sections
were adopted (Arnoul 1670, p. 12), and like
Peter, he finds his observations in England more
rewarding. They fit better to his thinking. Rlamb
is appalled and uneasy that Dutch shipbuilders
work at random without theory (Rlamb 1691,
prel.v). Profound misunderstanding is the result,
or rather lies at its basis.
For educated outsiders it is incredibly hard to
conceive and concede that it is practice rather than
theory that informs the shipbuilding industry of
the Dutch Republic, and even harder to concede
that relying on practice and skills-based rules was
a very rational decision. Rational, that is in the
context of the fine-grained, hugely intertwined,
hugely efficient, but decentralized economics of
the merchant Republic. Less rational perhaps in

fig. 12 Witsen may have based his method on Georges Fourniers

Hydrographie of 1643, but it is as likely that he based it on
Furttenbachs Architectura Navalis of 1629 (M. Ditta).

and ideas (who hardly ever credited his sources;

Peters 2010, p. 40), but who was less systematic
as an analyst (Maarleveld 2013, p. 349). In fact
his model does not represent Dutch design at all.
Hoving suggests that he borrowed it from Georges
Fourniers Hydrographie of 1643, but it is even
more likely it builds on Furttenbach (1629), a
text Witsen extensively studied (Hoving 2008, p.
29) (fig. 12). Interestingly, as we have seen in the
previous section, many students of Witsens book
have assumed that his method did indeed give the
basis for Dutch design, which it doesnt.
Witsen himself is convinced that no mathematical
rules or principles are being applied in the shipbuilding industry in the Dutch Republic. In his
book this is obscured by the fact that he refers to
proportional scantlings and overall templates in
terms of fundamental principles (Witsen 1671,
p. 53). But it becomes very clear in a letter he
writes in 1694 in answer to a request from Czar
Peter, in which he clearly states that he does not
give any measures for ships and yachts, because
this is impossible. In Witsens experience every
shipbuilder determines what he thinks is the best,
using his practice and experience. Peter, quite
like many modern shipbuilders or archaeologists,
does not seem to believe him. Nor does he want
to accept that the shipbuilding methods that Witsen describes do allow for a more-or-less endless
flexibility and variety, rather than a set number of
types (Raptschinsky 1925, pp. 114-116). Peter
is certainly right that it is counterintuitive that
shipbuilding and scientific innovation would not
go hand in hand in the literate and economically
thriving merchant Republic. Like many modern

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

the context of centralized state organizations that

looked for economy of scale as well as for symbols
of power (Adams 2013, p. 87). The mind-set of
Czar Peter, of Arnoul, of Seignelay and other French
observers sent out by Colbert in the years 16691671, of Rlamb, of Anthony Deane, who like the
French agents got a commission to look into the
organisation and technicalities of the Dutch fleet
in the aftermath of the second Anglo-Dutch war
(Colenbrander 1919, p. 2), let alone of their superiors, was such that they looked for differences at the
theoretical level, and possibly for superior solutions
in managing the theory they were familiar with.
They could not think out of the box or imagine
that none of this applied. This has had a profound
but blurring influence on our understanding and
on the way we tend to look at the development of
shipbuilding in a teleological way. More profoundly
still, it has distorted our understanding of the processes determining transfer of technology.

fig. 13 Mathew Bakers Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry

opens with an iconic image in which the master shipwright-artistscientist wields a giant-sized pair of compasses over the lines plan of a
ship. Its use of perspective is a statement in which Baker draws on the
prestigious artistry and mathematics of Drer to present his identity
as a shipwright and designer. Moreover note the drawer under the
table the image is a direct copy from Albrecht Drers woodcut in
fig. 1 (Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge).

It is quite clear that Baker was familiar with

Drers handbook, but also that he finds inspiration in it. A striking similarity between Drers
Underweysung and Bakers Fragments lies in the
spirit of their work. Although Fragments survived
as a notebook, the original intent seems to have
been that of a presentation volume (Barker 1986,
p. 161). Texts and images address an audience,
probably first and foremost Bakers pupils and
apprentices. This didactic dimension is very clear
in sentences like: in this division observe all
the rules before taught (Baker 1570, p. 40) or
Now that I have showed how to know the tonnage of a ship (Baker 1570, p. 154). What is
more, just like Drer, Baker connected previously
unrelated domains. Similarity of concept and the
use of mathematics applied to a craft thus bind the
two works. The relationship, however, is further
demonstrated by the first and iconic image of the
manuscript (fig. 13). It shows a master shipwright
and an assistant at work in a drawing office, where
the master wields a giant-sized pair of compasses
over the lines plan of a ship. Besides its novel representation of drafting a plan on paper, the image
is built on a perspective scheme which was still a
novelty in 16th century England. Bakers use of
perspective is a sort of manifesto to his grasp of
geometry. But Bakers image is also a direct copy
from the nal woodcut in Albrecht Drers Underweysung. It is not the only reference to Drers
work. For his extensive use of scaled drawings in
relation to ships of different carrying capacity,
Baker needed a ratio between the linear dimensions and the tonnage calculations, for which he

6. Early Modern England, from Drer to

Mathew Baker
Interested observers, such as Czar Peter and Arnoul were disappointed by the fact that it was
practice rather than theory, which informed the
shipbuilding industry in the Dutch Republic
and turned their eyes to England where they
encountered the expected theoretical doctrines
and treatises (Arnoul 1670, p. 12; Peters 2010,
p. 162). More than a century earlier Mathew
Baker with his manuscript known as Fragments
of Ancient English Shipwrightry had beyond any
doubt been the first to connect mathematics and
ship design. Despite the fragmentary nature of
this collection, Fragments is an outstanding work.
It differs from both Venetian and Iberian texts in
that it incorporates innovative uses of paper, not
just to reproduce text but also for detailed and
finely finished scale drawings (Johnston 1994,
p. 120). Through the use of paper Baker was able
to perform calculations related to ship dimensions
and volume. But he could also engage in thought
experiments exploring design adaptations and
solve hypothetical problems (Johnston 1994, p.
110). Moreover, notes and paper allowed him to
translate the problems of the shipwright into the
language of the mathematician and vice versa.
Barring this, Bakers calculations and contacts
with mathematical practitioners would have been
incomprehensible and impossible.

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

building of Ships, Mathew Baker our countryman

(Borough 1581, sig. 3v).
But do the intellectual development and the
theoretically founded identity of the high status
shipwright have a measurable impact on the final
product, the finished warship or merchantman?
Was theory in this case superior to practice? While
written sources are plentiful, archaeological evidence for shipbuilding in Early Modern England
is rare. Although a number of wrecks are known,
only few are well preserved and have been studied
and published (Adams 2003; Auer, Maarleveld
2014; Bojakowski, Custer-Bojakowski 2011;
Marsden 2009). The picture that emerges from
those studies is anything but homogenous as there
seem to be considerable differences in construction
(Adams 2013; Auer, Maarleveld 2014).

used the cube root of the latter (Barker 1986, p.

173). Baker described the method as simple: to
him that hath the extracting of roots the matter
is very easy & to be done with the pen (Baker
1570, p. 26). Without the arithmetical knowledge
of cube roots, however, Baker could accomplish
the same result with a graphical construction due
to a certain rule that I found in Albartus Dreri
in his book of Geometry (Baker 1570, ibidem).
So Baker not only used Drer for constructing his
prefaces image but directly used Underweysung der
Messung for solving the problem of doubling the
cube with straight lines and compasses.
Johnston (1994, pp. 108-109), in fact, believes that
Baker was deliberately assembling his identity as a
shipwright and designer, drawing elements from
the prestigious artistry and mathematics of Drer.
Whereas Drer used mathematics in his pursuit of
beauty and elevating the figure of the craftsman to
that of the artist, Bakers construction of his identity as a master shipwright was based on exactly the
same resource. He adopted a rhetoric of arithmetic
and geometry instead of the technical language of
the carpenter and rejected the work of his predecessors, because they had been unable to provide
a scientific rationale for their technical decisions
(Johnston 1994, p. 139). For Baker, arithmetic
and geometry were two supporting sciences
(Baker 1570, p. 33) and two supporting pillars of
every art (Baker 1570, p. 34). Nevertheless, Baker
conceived of arithmetic and geometry in a specic
craft-oriented way. Drer was primarily interested
in the graphical construction of geometrical and
therefore theoretical figures using his craftsmans
tools. Baker in using mathematics started from a
concrete and manual starting point rather than
taking a fully abstract approach. The arithmetic
demonstrations found in Fragments were done
with the pen while geometry was operationalized
by using the compass and lines to produce plans
and elevations, as a sort of geometrical demonstration (Johnston 1994, pp. 141-142).
The intellectual novelty of Bakers approach to his
role as shipwright and his legacy Drer were already
recognized by his contemporaries. In the Preface to
A Discours of the Variation of the Cumpas of 1581,
the English cartographer William Borough (15361599), as true child of his time refers to arithmetic
and geometry as the basis for science and arts.
In doing so, he recognizes the practitioners who
outstandingly used this knowledge in their works:
In Architecture, Vitruvius the Roman: In painting
that famous German Albertus Drerus: And in

7. An archaeological example
One example of an English merchant vessel of the
late 16th century is the Princes Channel Wreck or
Gresham Ship (fig. 14). It was discovered as a result
of navigational dredging in the Thames Estuary
and fully excavated in 2004 (Auer, Maarleveld
2014). The excavated and recovered remains consist of the bow and a run of the portside 14m in
length, from just above the turn of the bilge to the
level of the lowermost deck. The Gresham Ship was
built after September 1574 from timber sourced
in eastern England, most probably East Anglia
and Essex. It had an approximate overall length
at deck level of 24.7 m and a tonnage of 223.5.
The armament consisted of 10-12 guns of varying
types. This would have made the ship a medium
sized trading vessel, which could certainly sail in
European waters, but for which journeys further
overseas were not out of reach either. A merchant
vessel like the Gresham Ship would probably have
been a common sight on the Ocean in the 16th
What information, however, does the construction
offer on practice on English merchant dockyards
in the late 16th century? Does the application of
theory reflect in the archaeological material? And
does the archaeological evidence allow for an interpretation of the relationship between theorists
and dockyard practitioners? A closer look at the
hull construction might help to elaborate these
questions. One of the striking features of the wreck
was a doubling of framing timbers from the turn
of the bilge upwards. This could be identified as

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

fig. 14 Research model of the Princes Channel Wreck or Gresham

Ship, built by Christian Heiberg Rosenberg Thomsen in the course
of the study of the hull (T. Maarleveld).
fig. 15 Reconstructed midships section of the Gresham ship, showing
the original and furred cross-section of the hull, as well as the layout
of the framing timbers (M. Ditta).

on the planks upon these timbers. The occasion of it

is to make a ship bear a better sail, for when a ship
is too narrow and her bearing either not laid out
enough or too low, then they must make her broader
and lay her bearing higher. They commonly fur some
two or three strakes under water and as much above,
according as the ship requires, more or less. I think
in all the world there are not so many ships furred as
are in England, and it is pity that there is no order
taken either for the punishing of those who build such
ships or the preventing of it, for it is an infinite loss
to the owners and an utter spoiling and disgrace to
all ships that are so handled (Perrin, Manwaring
1922, p. 153).
The Gresham Ship was furred by applying the
furring timbers from a level below the waterline,
six strakes below the lowest deck and continuing
past the limit of preservation of the port side (fig.
15). Compared to the common extent of furring,
quoted by Mainwaring above two or three strakes
underwater and as much above the hull shape
of the vessel was heavily altered at some point in
her career.
However, besides this further peculiarities were
noted in the construction of the vessel. All floor
timbers and first futtocks are joined with interlocked or knuckle joints, which are fastened with

fig. 16 Diagram of the frame layout of the Gresham ship showing

the knuckle joints and filling timbers (M. Ditta).

furring, a radical way of rebuilding used as a

remedy for tender-sided vessels. In his Seamans
Dictionary Sir Henry Mainwaring (1587-1653)
explains this process:
The other [kind of furring], which is more eminent
and more properly furring, is to rip off the first planks
and to put other timbers upon the first, and so to put

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

horizontally driven treenails (fig. 16). Although it

has to remain unclear whether the primary purpose
of these joints was to strengthen the construction
or whether they are evidence of pre-moulding, it
seems likely that frames were assembled prior to
being erected on the keel. This would indicate a
frame-first or frame-based construction method
mostly known from ships built in the IberoAtlantic or Mediterranean area (Oertling 2001;
Grenier et al. 2007, III-62f.). This forms a stark
contrast to the contemporary English Sea Venture
(wrecked 1609) for which a frame-led construction with an alternating progression of framing
and planking is proposed (Adams 2013, 130ff.).
Interlocked or knuckle joints like those on the
Gresham Ship are, however, also known from
the early 16th-century Yassi Ada Wreck from the
Islamic area (Steffy 1994, p. 134), and from the
Genoese Lomellina (Gurout et al. 1989, 35f.).
A lighter version of this kind of joint has been observed in the western Mediterranean and attributed
to Venice (Beltrame 2014, p. 48). In the majority
of Ibero-Atlantic wrecks, the mortises are on the
floor timbers and face away from the master frame,
which might have mortises on both faces (Grenier
et al. 2007, III, 62f.). In the Gresham Ship, there
is no change of direction around the master frame,
all futtocks are attached aft of the floor timber.
The only other wreck to display a break from the
Ibero-Atlantic pattern of mortises facing away from
the master frame is Lomellina. Here no consistent
joint direction could be observed (Gurout et al.
1989, 35f.). While in some wrecks only the master
frame and a selected number of frames forward
and aft were joined, all ten preserved floors in the
Gresham Ship are joined in the same way.
An interesting feature are filling timbers or filling
frames, which were inserted between joined pairs
of floor timbers and futtocks to fill the space and
form a continuous band of timber around the
turn of the bilge. The regular occurrence of filling
frames is otherwise only known from the Mary
Rose (Marsden 2009, pp. 47, 93). Altogether,
this means that, in terms of its framing system,
the closest comparisons with the Gresham Ship
are the older and larger Genoese merchant vessel
Lomellina and to a degree the likewise substantially
older and larger English Mary Rose.
The outer hull planking of the Gresham Ship also
displays a number of constructional peculiarities.
Hull planks within a strake are carefully joined
with vertical scarf joints (fig. 17) and the planks
are waterproofed with strands of tarred animal hair

fig. 17 Isometric drawing of scarf joint between outer planks in

the Gresham ship (J. Auer).

laid into a groove at the bottom edge of the planks.

Both features warrant further discussion.
The joining of strake planks with scarf joints is a
well-known characteristic of clinker or lapstrake
ship-building. The Gresham Ship, however, is a
frame-first construction with a skeleton of pre-assembled and pre-erected frames, which determine
the shape of the hull and are the main element of
structural integrity. In such a construction, the
joining of strake planks with scarfs is technically
unnecessary as butt joints aligned with timbers
are adequate. Are the vertical scarf joints between
planks an archaic legacy of clinker ship-building?
Clinker shells are made watertight using material
laid between the overlapping strake planks, while
carvel hulls are generally caulked with waterproofing material hammered into plank seams after
assembly. The solution seen on the Gresham Ship
seems to be a crossover between both techniques.
The shipbuilders were certainly aware of caulking,
as they used it around the wale and in repairs, but
seemingly made a considered choice not to use
caulking to seal the outer hull planks. Did they not
trust the caulking technique? In his discussion of
carvel ship-building in Northern Europe, Adams
reaches the conclusion that alternative waterproofing solutions such as caulking seam battens on
the inside or outside of outer hull planks might
be an expression of the lack of skill of early carvel
shipbuilders and their creative search for new
solutions even within a tradition with skills based
rules about how certain tasks should be performed
(Adams 2003, p. 90). This might well be the case
in the Gresham Ship as well.

Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

Altogether, the Gresham Ship does not easily fit into our current picture of Early Modern
shipbuilding. The pre-erected frames were likely
pre-designed and the design of the master frame
was based on a concept of arcs (Ditta in Auer,
Maarleveld 2014, pp. 68-74). This means that
the ship was conceived on the basis of mathematical theory. However, this theory, or indeed its application was flawed and led to a tender-sided
vessel, which had to be rebuilt using furring, a
process which Mainwaring describes as: an utter
spoiling and disgrace to all ships that are so handled
(Perrin and Manwaring 1922, p. 53). In terms
of construction, there is little similarity between
the Gresham Ship and other contemporary English wrecks, with the exception maybe of the older
Mary Rose. Instead, constructional features found
on the Gresham Ship are reminiscent of Mediterranean shipbuilding, and many other features are
reminiscent of clinker building techniques. What
does this tell us about dockyard practices? Maybe
the contrast between design and construction, and
the puzzling mix of seemingly archaic construction
features is quite typical for a period of transition
and changes. Only a little more than 100 years
before the construction of the Gresham Ship, large
clinker-built seagoing vessels were still a common
sight around the shores of Britain, as witnessed
by the Newport Ship (Nayling, Jones 2014).
And the large clinker-built merchant vessel U34
predates the Gresham Ship by only some 46 years
(Overmeer 2008). While it has been suggested
that it was built in Poland, other construction areas
are presently considered as well (Overmeer pers.
comm.). Many of the dockyard craftsmen could still
have been used to clinker shipbuilding and when
confronted with problems during the construction
of a pre-designed carvel vessel found conservative
and practical solutions based on their personal experience. Maybe the inconsistency between efforts
at theoretical design and practical craftsmanship is
an accurate reflection of the situation in English
merchant dockyards of the late 16th century.

ist approaches of human culture and its expression in cultures. Instead, these approaches try
to understand individual and group agency in
technological processes (Lemonnier 1993) and
how practice relates to identity, and identification with a group or overlapping groups (Insoll
2007). It is a theme that, with a few exceptions,
seems to be quite absent in much of the literature
that addresses the technicalities of shipbuilding
in a historical perspective. Simple explanations
have been preferred, and simple explanations are
of needs simplifications. Moreover, research has
always been biased towards contexts for which
consistent bodies of source material do exist. This
applies to the history of scientific ideas and the
history of technical implementations alike. And
perhaps even more prominently, it applies to the
history of the ship. With exceptions again, discussions have been spoon-fed by the available written
sources. States, governments, centralized navies
or corporate organizations have produced more
consistent archives than other sections, such as the
fishing industry or tramping merchant fleets. But
even since archaeological sources have started to be
consulted, a clear bias towards ships of state has
persisted (Cederlund 1995). Incidentally, that
bias also feeds into debates on significance and
protection in a very distorting fashion, but that
need not concern us here.
In many cases archaeological data has been preferred that easily feeds into the debate, because it
refers to known, clearly identified contexts, while
data that doesnt has been neglected (Harpster
2013). This is further enhanced by the fact that
ships as heritage are associated with a historiography that is marked by parochialism, antiquarianism, and celebratory narrative (Sawyer 2013).
The result is that the technological history of
the ship has fed into the greater narratives on
transfer of technology in a way that strengthens
the national narratives of naval powers. Partly,
this can be explained from the continued need
for self-assurance in contemporary nation-states
(Cederlund, Hocker 2006; Maarleveld 2007;
Wright 2009, pp. 145-175). Partly also, it is
self-explanatory in that generations of maritime
researchers have focused on the development and
spread of shipbuilding theory and shunned away
from contexts where theory was not visibly at the
forefront of development. If one studies transfer
of technology, one follows the paths where such
transfer clearly occurs. But it is as revealing to
look into actual ship production and competitive

8. Transfer of technology, creative entropy, or

a dominance of practice?
The examples above serve to illustrate some of
the peculiar ways in which technological choices
are made. It is a theme that is deeply embedded
in archaeological approaches that try to move
away from unilinear, deterministic or essential99

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

advantages in terms of manpower, building speed

and demand on resources. Despite the biased focus on the remains of ships whose story is known
in advance, the archaeology of more anonymous
wrecks now gradually provides that opportunity.
In the preface of his solid Ships and Science
Larrie Ferreiro argues that the separation of ship
theory development and construction practices by
nation is artificial (Ferreiro 2007, xi). All over
Europe, after all, there were strong and continuous links between scientists and constructors of
all nations, despite the wars that were fought by
their sovereigns and governments. This integration is even a typical trait of Renaissance and
Early Modern Europe (Cohen 2010; Dominiczak 2012, p. 1168). Intellectually, it is an aspect
that is illustrated again and again, and that figures
prominently in the discussions above on the art
of defining a section, the spread of mathematical
ideas and their introduction in discourses on architecture and ship architecture. At a practical level,
integration is similarly evident. The workforces in
the shipbuilding industry, as well as in naval yards
were highly international and qualified by migrant
labour (van Lottum 2007, p. 58; Hocker 2013).
Consequently, separation of the development of
ship theory by nation may indeed not be useful.
Separation of construction practices by nation
may not be useful either. But the exchange of construction practices clearly follows other dynamics
than the intellectual exchange. What is more, the
archaeological material now available clearly shows
that a separation between theory and practice is
essential if we are ever to understand how transfer
of technology really occurs.
Archaeology and the Princes Channel wreck is
a good example illustrates how theory has been
applied in practice. But at least as significantly it
provides us with detail on the choices of individual
craftsmen. It highlights the repertoire of techniques
they are familiar with. It highlights cultural preferences and problem solving traditions (Maarleveld
1995; Schweitzer forthcoming). It highlights
reluctance to instructions that individual carpenters do not believe in. It highlights organizational
issues and individual skills (Hocker 2013). It is
also illustrative of the decision-making process.
Discussions on transfer of technology and creative
innovation can profit from this. Archaeology also
shows how fashionable theory can be defied and
the Dutch Flush merchant ships are a case in point.
Distinguishing between the spread of ideas and the
spread of practices highlights the organizational

factor. And it highlights the role of the craftsman, who is reduced to an automaton in some
systems, but who is the thinking problem-solver in
others. Economists have come to look at technological change in terms of macro-inventions and
micro-inventions (Vries 2013, p. 114). Macroinventions are those that provide entirely new ways
of thinking in relation to workable or improvable
techniques. Micro-inventions are incremental
improvements in a field that is basically known.
Thinking of Early Modern shipbuilding in terms
of transfer of technology, more or less implies that
its technology is interpreted as a macro-invention.
But it begs the question whether one can interpret
the introduction of theory in shipbuilding as a
macro-invention at all. As we have seen in the
discussions on art and architecture as well as that
of Ole Judichaer, mathematical theory itself was
subject to incremental development over a long
period of time. But even if we wish to interpret
the introduction of design on paper as a macroinvention, it was one that only applied to specific
contexts, contexts that were predefined as hierarchical and centralized.
Moreover, innovation and certainly innovation as
discussed by economists should lead to cheaper
procedures if not also to better ones. In the hierarchical and centralized contexts in which theorists
experimented, economy of resources may well have
been subordinate to the status and magnificence
of the result (Adams 2013, p. 111), despite economies of scale and cheap labour. The parallel with
architecture in the sense of a high status transformation of space is striking in this aspect as well.
In the practice dominated shipbuilding industry of
the Dutch Republic the available supply of planks
and timber is defining, perhaps even normative. It
is deliberately sourced along distant supply lines.
Higher staff-costs are offset by relative freedom
in conversion, in which each crutch, or crooked
timber can be used in an optimal way. Dutch Flush
approaches proved extremely cost-effective in terms
of timber resources, and the shipyards could produce competitively as a result. Frugal timber use is
cited by all foreign observers, despite their dislike
for the absence of theory and system.
But change and considerable change happened more-or-less independent of theory as well.
Ranges of new and more specialized vessels were
developed in northern Europe all through the period discussed. In the centralized new monarchies
where theoreticians were appointed to high status
positions of managing shipbuilding or shipbuilding


Albrecht Drer and Early Modern Merchant ships. A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology

programmes this process may be slightly more driven by government decisions than it for instance is
in the Dutch Republic. But even if one looks at the
written evidence, the successful developments do
not seem to be those that are initiated on theoretical
grounds. The problems that led to the abundance of
furred vessels in England are just an example (Auer,
Maarleveld 2014). The well-studied history of
the intended introduction of galley construction in
northern Europe as compared to the development
of many other types of rowable vessels is another
case in point (Lehmann 1984; Barker 1992; Auer
2008). So is the very successful introduction of
the fluit (Wegener Sleeswijk 2003), and other
developments associated with Jan Pietersz. Liorne
(Sigmond 2013, 274 ff.), and so is the adaptation
of the waterschip (Verwey et al. 2012).
The exchange of construction practices provides
craftsmen with a wider repertoire of experience,
with a greater ability to adapt to new demands
and find creative and innovative combinations
(van der Leeuw 2011, pp. 216-217). Whereas
one can view resistance to theory as resistance to
technological innovation, as inertia and conservatism (Mokyr 2000), doing so in relation to Early
Modern shipbuilding is profoundly missing the
point. In order to explain the archaeological evidence, it seems to be far more productive to look
at the dominance of practice as subject to a continuous and very creative process of using an ever
wider variety of techniques and technical solutions
to meet an ever wider range of demands and challenges in an ever more varied set of organizational
settings. Continuity is not necessarily entropy, and
if entropy at all, it is a very creative entropy.

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In this essay the authors present a reflection on the processes
that surround the acceptance of new ideas and what is generally
called transfer of technology. They do so by linking the emerging
archaeological understanding of continuity and change in shipbuilding practices in different parts of Europe at the beginning
of Modern History, with long established and newly rewritten
histories of intellectual, scientific and technological development.
Albrecht Drer is presented as a crucial actor in the developing
Renaissance worldview in which beauty and technological
proficiency is founded in a divine order that can be described
in terms of mathematics. It is a worldview that inspired theory
and experimentation in architecture and ship architecture alike,
but not necessarily in a practicable or reliable way. The beautiful
ellipse is pursued in English, French and Danish shipbuilding,
notably the building of grand ships for the kings navy, but harmony and innovation are attained in quite different ways in the
Dutch Republic. Archaeological data clearly demonstrate that the


Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

processes at work in that seething shipbuilding environment are
almost completely immune to the (ship-) architectural theorizing
that bestows other parts of Europe. The consequences of this
for our interpretation of written sources notably Witsen are
discussed, before some focus is put on Mathew Bakers England
and the archaeological example of the Princes Channel wreck.
The comparative approach of the essay leads to a critical assessment of unilinear explanations, and thus derides their usefulness
in present day development thinking. Whereas the Early Modern period in Europe was typified by intellectual integration as
well as an integration of labour markets that would seemingly
foster unified development, the archaeological evidence clearly
demonstrates that theory and practice are two different worlds
that need to be approached separately, if fundamental and
continuous misunderstanding is to be avoided.
Keywords: Renaissance, Mathematics, Shipbuilding,
Architecture, History of Science, Transfer of Technology.

Albrecht Drer e le navi mercantili della prima et moderna.
Una riflessione sulla diffusione di idee e sul trasferimento di
tecnologia. In questo saggio gli autori presentano una riflessione sui processi che circondano laccettazione delle nuove
idee e quello che genericamente chiamato trasferimento
tecnologico. Essi lo fanno collegando lemergente conoscenza
archeologica della continuit e del cambiamento nelle pratiche
di costruzione navale in diverse parti dellEuropa allinizio
della storia moderna, con la consolidata e nuovamente riscritta

storia dello sviluppo scientifico e tecnologico. Albrecht Drer

presentato come un attore cruciale nella visione rinascimentale
del mondo in trasformazione in cui la bellezza e la conoscenza
tecnologica fondata su un ordine divino che pu essere
descritto in termini matematici. una visione del mondo
che ispir teoria e sperimentazione sia in architettura che in
architettura navale, ma non necessariamente in maniera pratica
o affidabile. Nella costruzione navale inglese, francese e danese,
specialmente nella costruzione di grandi navi per la flotta del
re, ricercata e adoperata la meravigliosa ellisse, ma armonia
e innovazione sono raggiunte in maniere abbastanza differenti
nella repubblica olandese. I dati archeologici dimostrano chiaramente che i processi in atto in quel ribollente ambiente della
costruzione navale sono quasi completamente immuni alle teorizzazioni darchitettura (navale) che invece coinvolgono altre parti
dEuropa. Vengono quindi discusse le conseguenze di tale aspetto
in relazione allinterpretazione delle fonti scritte specialmente
di Witsen prima di un approfondimento sullInghilterra di
Mathew Baker e dellesempio archeologico del relitto Princess
Channel. Lapproccio comparativo del saggio porta verso un
giudizio critico di spiegazioni unilineari, e cos deride la loro
utilit nel pensiero odierno emergente. Mentre la prima et
moderna in Europa era caratterizzato da integrazione intellettuale cos come da unintegrazione del mercato del lavoro che
avrebbe in apparenza favorito uno sviluppo unificato, levidenza
archeologica dimostra chiaramente che teoria e pratica sono due
mondi diversi che devono essere affrontati separatamente, se si
vuole evitare unincomprensione di base e continua .
Parole chiave: Rinascimento, matematica, costruzione navale,
architettura, storia della scienza, trasferimento di tecnologia.



S o c i e t A m b i e n t e P r o d u z i o n e


dei relitti postmedievali
a cura di Carlo Beltrame


Il volume, che raccoglie undici contributi di archeologi

marittimi di molti paesi, ha lobiettivo di accendere i riflettori sulle enormi potenzialit dei relitti di et storica,
mettendo a confronto, da un lato, approcci diversi (di
ambito mediterraneo ma anche statunitense, australiano e nord europeo), dallaltro, contesti archeologici con
caratteristiche altrettanto diverse per lambiente di giacitura e per limpiego civile o militare dellimbarcazione. Gli studi, diacronici ma incentrati sul Cinquecento
e sullOttocento, coprono le varie sfaccettature dellindagine storica dei relitti di et postmedievale quali la
costruzione navale, il commercio e la vita di bordo, ma
anche aspetti di tipo squisitamente metodologico quali
larcheologia sperimentale navale. Si tratta di una novit assoluta per leditoria scientifica italiana in cui questo
particolare, ma molto promettente, ambito della ricerca
archeologica non aveva ancora trovato adeguato spazio.


dei relitti

of Post-Medieval

a cura di Carlo Beltrame


ISSN 1592-5935
ISBN 978-88-7814-618-1

AllInsegna del Giglio

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