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S o c i e t à   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 dei relitti
marittimi di molti paesi, ha l’obiettivo di accendere i ri-

flettori sulle enormi potenzialità dei relitti di età storica, postmedievali
mettendo a confronto, da un lato, approcci diversi (di
ambito mediterraneo ma anche statunitense, australia-
no e nord europeo), dall’altro, contesti archeologici con
caratteristiche altrettanto diverse per l’ambiente di gia-
citura e per l’impiego civile o militare dell’imbarcazio-
ne. Gli studi, diacronici ma incentrati sul Cinquecento
e sull’Ottocento, coprono le varie sfaccettature dell’in-
dagine storica dei relitti di età postmedievale quali la
costruzione navale, il commercio e la vita di bordo, ma
anche aspetti di tipo squisitamente metodologico quali
l’archeologia sperimentale navale. Si tratta di una novi-
tà assoluta per l’editoria scientifica italiana in cui questo
particolare, ma molto promettente, ambito della ricerca
archeologica non aveva ancora trovato adeguato spazio.
of Post-Medieval
a cura di Carlo Beltrame

€ 36,00
ISSN 1592-5935
ISBN 978-88-7814-618-1

All’Insegna 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, Søren Nielsen, Morten Ravn, Post-excavation documentation,
reconstruction and experimental archaeology applied to clinker-built ship-finds from Scandinavia . . . . . . . . 21
Mark Staniforth, Jun Kimura, Lê Thi Lien, Defeating the fleet of Kublai Khan: the Bach Dang River
and Van Don Naval battlefields research project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

2. relitti
Max Guérout, Epave de la Lomellina (1516). Système d’épuisement 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 Dürer 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 Dürer and Early Modern Merchant ships.
A reflection on the spread of ideas and transfer of technology
Massimiliano Ditta*, Jens Auer*, Thijs Maarleveld*

1. Introduction Hoover, Hoover 1950) can be studied archaeo-

logically (Willies 1982; Tylecote 1992; Mo-
Archaeological research of the remains of Early lenda 2001; Chirikure et al. 2010; Maarle­veld,
Modern merchant ships is gradually helping us to Overmeer 2012). The practices and technology
understand the technicalities of what is so easily certainly developed long before they became the
indicated as transfer of technology in the Early object of study of universal scientists and long
Modern period. In a repetition of the idea ‘ex ori- before they were committed to paper and print.
ente lux’, a repetition that perhaps even is implied in So, practice and technology preceded intellectual
the term ‘Renaissance’ itself, the simplified template discussion of theory and ideas. Specific aspects of
of thinking is that ideas and technology travelled metal-working, notably gun-founding, follow their
from east to west and from Renaissance Italy to own logic (Guilmartin 2003; Beltrame, Ridella
northern Europe. Such a simplified approach is 2011). Guns, after all, are at the key of military
certainly fostered by Carlo M. Cipolla’s seminal efforts and strategic investments, and subject to
book of 1965 with its title Guns, sails and Empires, scientific research with that specific perspective.
Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of In such a military context transfer of knowledge
European expansion, 1400-1700 (Cipolla 1965). and transfer of technology are very closely con-
But is the template supported by the actual material nected. So, in that sense, Cipolla’s emphasis on
that has been preserved in the archaeological record guns is well-chosen. The logic of present-day
and whose analysis is gradually becoming available military-industrial espionage and promotion and
and putting the template to the test? Partly perhaps, prevention of transfer of ideas and technology can
and quite apart from the archaeological evidence probably be used to explain historical processes in
there is no question that ideas in that specific pe- this specific technological domain. In relation to
riod have been shared by a growing number of lucid naval shipbuilding, the extensive espionage that
and enlightened intellectuals. Although the spread Colbert commissioned in order to strengthen the
of ideas in this particular period certainly followed navy of Louis XIV (Rieth 1984; Ferreiro 2007,
other mechanisms than the models for the spread pp. 64-67) certainly suggests a similar model of
of agriculture or human populations with which explanation for ships and maritime technology
Luigi Cavalli-Sforza (Ammerman, Cavalli-Sforza at large. But is it as simple as that? What about
1973; Cavalli-Sforza, Cavalli-Sforza 1995) has Early Modern merchant ships as opposed to naval
influenced prehistoric archaeology, there can be technology? How does the one feed into the other
no doubt that an intensified spread of intellectual and the other into the one? But, more importantly,
concepts and ideas occurred and that Italy was one are ideas and technology indeed spread in the same
of its nodal points. There is equally no doubt that way and at the same pace? Or is practical entropy in
this spread was closely related to the introduction the way, and are technological messages translated
of paper, relief printing and the practical use of the and transformed, rather than transmitted?
printing press (Cohen 2010). In this article such questions will be explored and
But is the spread of ideas the same as transfer of illustrated in view of several different strands of
technology? Does transfer of technology follow research. First, the spread of ideas relating to the
the spread of ideas? Or is it the other way round? harmonious modelling and design of well-propor-
Metals, metallurgy and the archaeology of mining tioned ships will be explored from the perspective
are an obvious field where such questions can be of the history of ideas. This section is more about
addressed, and where the practical background for mathematics, architects and mathematicians than
Biringuccio’s and Agricola’s scientific work of the it is about practical shipbuilders. In a way, it takes
16th century (Stanley Smith, Teach Gnudi 1990; up the issues discussed in the inspiring volume
Creating Shapes in Civil and Naval Architecture
*  University of Southern Denmark. (Nowacki, Lefèvre 2009). As the connection

Archeologia Postmedievale
18, 2014, pp. 83-104
Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

between Italy and the rich source material in Spain respected mathematician as well. In fact, his early
and Portugal (and their dependencies) is relatively work involved algebraic solutions pertaining to
well studied (e.g. Da Gama Pimentel Barata et Descartes’ folium and sections of the cone, issues
al. 1996; Alves 2001; Castro, Custer 2008), the that are relevant to the present discussion (de
focus will be on the connexion between Italy and Waard 1911). Even if Ole Judichaer’s thinking had
central Europe, not a shipbuilding area perhaps, Dutch inspirations, however, his approaches are
but a centre of book production and learning and far off from contemporary practice in Holland in
of great influence to northern Europe. Surprisingly, terms of ship design and construction technology.
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), better known for Last, but not least some discussion will be devoted
his striking engravings of religious motives or his to Early Modern England, for which the analysis
portraits of contemporary humanists than for any of the Princes Channel wreck (Auer, Maarleveld
skills in shipbuilding, takes a central place in this 2014) has confirmed that ‘Venetian’ methods of
discussion. The relevance is that in the seething design, as recommended by Mathew Baker in
Renaissance as we conceive it, the skills of artists, ‘Fragments of Ancient Shipwrightry’ were indeed en
architects and mathematicians frequently coincide, vogue in Baker’s time, but not to the full extent,
whereas some mathematicians – Thomas Harriot and not with the desired result. The article will
(c. 1560-1621) is an early example in England – ap- conclude with some further considerations on how
ply their mathematical knowledge as shipbuilders practice influences thinking, and how hard it is to
or by imposing it on those who are. force new concepts, whatever their scientific status,
As a sequence to this, the practice of Ole Judichaer onto long established practice in the crafts.
(1661-1729) will be presented, a young math-
ematician again, who built warships rather than
merchant ships for the Danish king at the end of 2. Albrecht Dürer and a worldview dominated
the seventeenth century. The section derives from by geometry
Massimiliano Ditta’s work on Early Modern (war-)
ship models kept in the Royal Danish Naval Mu- Towards the end of the 15th century, Albrecht
seum in Copenhagen (Ditta 2014). Dürer became one of the leading artists in Renais-
Subsequently, building on the work of Lemée sance Europe who created a sensible connection
(2006), Hoving (2012) and Maarleveld (2013) between art and science. He never referred to him-
practice and theory in the Low Countries will be self as a scientist or mathematician, but extensively
discussed on the basis of the limited written techni- used geometry in his pursuit of beauty. As a sort of
cal sources and the growing body of archaeologi- Poeta Vate hovering between scientific investigation
cal material. In view of the general discussion on and craft, he elevated the figure of the craftsman to
transfer of technology, it is interesting to note that that of the artist. He claimed that this was attained
Ole Judichaer’s work displays aspects that conform by the pursuit of wide-ranging knowledge and the
to the (intellectual) discussions and practice associ- perfection of skills while grounding them in theory.
ated with Italy and with developments in architec- Indeed, Dürer allegedly coined the German word
ture. His experience in the Mediterranean however for art: ‘Kunst’, derived from the verb können, to
is limited or non-existent and he claims to derive know (Dominiczak 2012, p. 1170). Besides his
his ideas from the Dutch Republic. Intellectually art, he produced texts that did not only reach fellow
and mathematically, this can well have been the artists but which influenced renowned mathemati-
case. Simon Stevin (1548-1620) and Christiaan cians as Tartaglia (1499/1500-1557) and Cardano
Huygens (1629-1695) come to mind as authori- (1501-1576), as well as famous scientists such
tatively representing the creative mathematical and as Galilei (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630)
engineering milieu. But it is equally noteworthy (Silver 2012, p. 408).
that Johannes Hudde (1628-1704), who was to Dürer was born in Nuremberg into a goldsmith
be burgomaster of Amsterdam at the start of Ju- family and already at the age of 14, he was ap-
dichaer’s career, and who – somewhat earlier and prenticed to the painter and illustrator Michael
in response to a dispute over the Danish rules ap- Wolgemut (1434-1519), a pioneer of printing and
plied for levying toll – has designed the alternative woodcut design. In his artistic career, Dürer went
tonnage calculations that are integrally inserted in to Venice twice, first in 1494 and a second time in
Witsen’s Aeloude en Hedendaegsche Scheeps-bouw the early 1500eds. During his first visit he probably
en Bestier (Witsen 1671, pp. 242-247) was a came in contact with the Venetian artist Jacopo dé

Albrecht Dürer 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 no-
tions 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 Ele-
ments 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 Dürer learned most of what he knew from
his friend and mentor Johannes Werner (1468-
1528). 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 Dürer used
– was conducted by Apollonius of Perga (c. 262-c.
fig. 1 – Albrechts Dürer’s Underweysung der Messung was printed in
190 BC) who wrote it down in 8 books. The first
Nuremberg in 1525. It is best known for its presentation of elaborate original work on conic sections since the time of
mechanical devices for drawing in perspective, as on this final woodcut. Apollonius was written by Werner. It appeared in
Even more fundamentally important, however, is the definition 1522 (Koudela 2005, p. 198). This means that
and construction of geometrical figures, such as regular polygons
and polyhedrons, of conic sections: ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola. the work of Dürer and Werner were the best acces-
Compare the image with fig. 11. (Folio Riii, SLUB Dresden). sible on the matter until Apollonius’ treatise was
republished in Venice in 1541 (Rosin 2001, p. 59).
Whereas Werner mainly focused on the study of
Barbari (c.1465-c.1515) and learned about linear the parabola and hyperbola for solving the duplica-
perspective (Morrall 2011, p. 109). The visit tion of the cube (Koudela 2005, p. 198), Dürer
seems to have been a formative experience for the was primarily interested in the graphical construc-
young Dürer. It defined his attitude toward the arts tion of these figures. By using his craftsman’s tools
and he became convinced that the secret of beauty Dürer aimed to translate and transform them into
could be revealed through the use of mathematics the improved painter’s art. Hence, his understand-
(Silver 2012, p. 409). During his second visit to ing of and approach to the conics is more intuitive
Venice he purchased a copy of Euclid’s work and rather than purely mathematical (Pack 1996). His
visited Bologna «to learn the secrets of the art of ingenuity is evident in the construction of the
perspective» (Morrall 2011, p. 110), two facts ellipse, which in German he called the ‘egg line’
that clearly show his interest in mathematics and (eyer linie). Also, despite his own evidence, Dürer
geometry. constructed the ellipse as an egg-shaped figure,
On his return to Nuremberg, a motivated Dürer without the full symmetry of a truly mathematical
began to write an ambitious handbook which one (fig. 2). It is a mistake that persisted in German
addressed all the disciplines of artists. The work works for nearly a century (Silver 2012, p. 412).
entitled Underweysung der Messung was printed As already mentioned, the most significant element
in Nuremberg in 1525, just three years before in Dürer’s Underweysung der Messung, besides the
Dürer’s death. The manual is divided in 4 books reinvention of conics as such, is the technique used

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

Dürer 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 Dürer 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 ob-
ject 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 dif-
fig. 2 – Albrecht Dürer’s ingenuity is evident in the construction of ferent divine truths” (De docta ignorantia, 1440).
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 egg- 3. Ellipses everywhere, from Dürer to Ole
shaped figure, without full mathematical symmetry. It is a mistake Judichaer
that stuck (Folio Ciiii, SLUB Dresden).

The Renaissance emphasis on geometry was mar-

for drawing them. The method employed by Dürer ried to a sense of an expanding world. This was
is a series of parallel projections, a technique that due to the explorations, to Copernicus’ ground-
was familiar to every architect and carpenter but breaking cosmological concepts and Kepler’s
that had never before been applied to the solution theory of the planets. In architecture elliptical
of a purely mathematical problem (Panofsky orbits were translated as the form that represents
1971, p. 255). But in fact the transformation ‘stretching’ of space: the ellipse that stretches the
which Dürer effected was of a radical nature (Pack circle. The ellipse was thus designed to have an
1996, p. 28). The mason’s technique had not been emotional impact on the viewer (Hammond et al.
representational and had not been applied to a 2005, p. 178). The new vision of the world and
representational problem in another realm. Dürer’s interest in the elliptical forms strongly determined
transformation, however, entailed the extraction baroque architecture of Europe. As such, the ellipse
and isolation of the formal aspect of the mason’s can be regarded as symbol of the shift between
operation, away from practice, away from the real the Renaissance and Baroque worlds. Although
life situation, away from the material. Consequent- several Italian renaissance architects had already
ly, this formal aspect was then representationally used elliptical shapes in their constructions, it was
redeployed on the abstract surface of a blank page the civil architects of seventeenth century Europe
of paper (Pack 1996, p. 28). Thus, Dürer’s work that really developed a passion for the elliptic form.
was able to bridge and connect the isolated world of This reflects the mathematical and astronomical
mathematical speculation and actual craft practice. enthusiasm for the ellipse as geometrical figure

Albrecht Dürer 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 (1571-
1630) 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 Dürer’s description of conics:
“So, Fabricius, I already have this: that the most
true path of the planet [Mars] is an ellipse, which
Dürer also calls an oval, or certainly so close to an
ellipse that the difference is insensible.” Kepler’s
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 promi- fig. 3 – The life-size ellipsograph that the engineer Renau
nent in architectural treatises all through the Ba- d’Élissagaray used for the construction of elliptical curves on timber
for a man-of-war as illustrated on folio 13 of his Mémoire sur la
roque period. In practice, however, it was rarely construction des vaisseaux dans lequel il y a une méthode pour
used because of the difficulty of reproducing it. en constuire les façons of the early 1680ies. The ellipsograph allows
Complex aspects of geometry were in fact always 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
tempered by the common sense of the builder and elaboration of the equations to produce the exact desired ellipse.
the necessity of quickly erecting a solid structure (Archives Nationales: Mar D1 10; after Brioist, Vérin 2008).
(Huerta 2008, p. 245). Instead of ellipses, oval
shapes were preferred. An oval was considered
a close approximation of the ellipse – even by the use of the circle for defining the rising-line
Kepler – but far more practical. The geometrical (as well as the rest of the hull), which according
difficulties of laying out an oval were resolved by to Deane’s words was found to be the best shape
the simplest methods, through the use of triangles after he tried both elliptical and diminishing lines
and circles, as already found in the late Renaissance (Deane, Lavery 1981, p. 60).
with Serlio’s treatise from 1537 (Rosin 2001, p. In French naval architecture, there was likewise a
61). short period of using the ellipse for defining the
In 17th century England, a long debate started rising-line, although this was somewhat later. In
among shipwrights about the best form for the 1680, the method of Louis XIV’s engineer Renau
rising-line of the floor. It is a (ship-)architectural d’Élissagaray (1652-1719) for the construction of
concept that is central to some design traditions, a man-of-war was applied for the first time (Vérin
if not for others. In an anonymous treatise from 2008). Renau’s approach was the result of a long
1628 the ellipse form, extracted by a mathemati- debate regarding the best shape for the hull of a
cal method using trigonometry, is suggested as the vessel which blazed between mathematicians and
most suitable (Lavery 1984, p. 14). For the rest of naval ‘engineers’ in the last decades of the 17th
the 17th century the elliptical rising-line does not century (Ferreiro 2007, 52ff). Indeed, where
seem to be proposed again, but evidently there is geometry alone was not able to justify what was
a lack of early lines plans. At the end of the 17th needed; physics, astronomy and the harmony of
century, Sir Anthony Deane (1638-1721) adopted spheres provided an answer. The French royal en-
a mechanical approach. He used sweeps, reflecting gineer 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:
Søetaten kort – og tegningssamling: A992).

form had to be an ellipse and elaborated his own tion at the naval shipyard of Bremerholm. In 1692
method for the design of the hull, where segments his career took a dramatic leap forward when he
of ellipse had to be used. The curves were designed was officially appointed fabrikmester, a position he
through the use of a special ellipsograph (fig. 3). would keep until his dismissal in 1727 (Bricka et
But first, reference points for each curve and a al. 1887, p. 555). The position was created with a
long set of algebraic equations for the machine view to supervise and control shipbuilding proce-
needed to be established (Brioist, Vérin 2008). dures. However, under Judichær, the first to hold
Renau’s reasoning was based in the most modern the post, it quickly evolved from that of a process
mathematical ideas of his day. Renau’s ellipses were manager into that of an actual designer or naval
the result of algebraic equations and the opera- architect (Bjerg, Erichsen 1980, p. 16). From
tion of elementary geometry. They were thus an 1695 onwards Judichær’s name will officially ap-
example of what Descartes (1596-1650) defined as pear on lines plans used in ship construction. The
a ‘geometrical curve’ as opposed to a ‘mechanical first drawings to bear his signature are those for the
curve’ that results from the practical use of simple sister-ships Prinz Carl and Prinz Wilhelm, launched
appliances, such as strings, nails and battens (Fer- in 1696 (fig. 4).
reiro 2007, p. 43). Despite the construction of The analysis of the body plan of the sister-ships
several frigates and the successful 56-gun Le Bon shows that the underwater hull was designed with
(Vérin 2008, p. 194), Renau’s method was rapidly the use of two circular non-tangential sweeps ac-
abandoned. The problem was the inconvenience cording to a proportion taken from the maximum
of a full scale ellipsograph and the mathematical breadth. In some aspects this approach is similar to
knowledge required to work out the equations. what can be found both in the master frame design
Too much could go wrong. Although the French of the Frenchman Dassié and in the theoretical
constructors were highly trained with practical construct given by Witsen, which will be discussed
knowledge of arithmetic and geometry, they often below. Moreover – and more importantly in the
had little formal education. The mathematical basis present context – the analysis reveals an interesting
necessary for this method, unlike the application insight in the use of the ellipse. The rising line of
of ‘mechanical curves’ that could actually be drawn the floor, the curve of the outer ends of the floor
by means of sweeps, was far beyond a practical ap- timbers, was identified by Probst (1993, p. 31-33)
proach (Ferreiro 2007, p. 74). as a line composed of two segments of two different
Contemporary to Renau d’Élissagaray, the appli- ellipses. This characteristic is present in all sheer
cation of the ellipse in naval architecture made its plans Judichær drafted during his career. Probst
appearance in Denmark. The Danish mathemati- came to his conclusions thanks to what is con-
cian and theologian Ole Judichær (1661-1729), sidered the first Danish text on naval architecture
student of the scientist Ole Rømer (1644-1710), (Rasmussen 1986, p. 28). The 12 page booklet
entered the ranks of the navy in 1690, with a posi- with the title Een liden Søe-Architectur was writ-

Albrecht Dürer 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 Judichær.
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 Dürer’s 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 inter-
section 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 el-
lipse, yet Dürer does not mention it. In fact, it was
only in 1640 that the mathematician Paul Guldin
(1577-1643) discovered the elliptical nature of the
fig. 5 – In his Een liden Søe-Architectur of 1723 Lauritz Bragenes curve (Huerta 2008, p. 224).
explains how to create an ellipse with given dimensions for the two
axes by the method known as ‘lengthened arc’. Bragenes was a student The methods Judichær adopts sit somewhat mid-
of Judichær. His method echoes Dürer’s approach, although he only way in architectural theory. On the one hand
uses 8 sections rather than 12. See also fig. 6. he uses geometrical curves in the pure Cartesian

fig. 6 – Dürer’s very clear explanatory drawing of the ‘lengthened arc’ method of constructing half an ellipse. Strangely enough Dürer 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; Bibliothèque Nationale).

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

meaning, just like Renau. On the other, he also uses Nevertheless that is the picture that emerges from
mechanical curves, just like Deane. The frame sec- recent archaeological research, and the written
tions for the hull are traced by the means of sweeps. sources of the period relating to shipbuilding in
These are mechanical curves and consequently the Dutch Republic, need to be interpreted in that
easy to reproduce by the master shipbuilders. The light – quite surprisingly perhaps.
rising-line of the floor, however – which was not a The continuing tradition of off-hand boatbuild-
line to be replicated on the shipyard – is conceived ing in which a client had to fully trust the builder
as a geometrical curve. It is found by means of for his skills in shaping a vessel to his desires and
descriptive geometry and not easy to trace by an specifications, while building it in a shell-first order,
instrument. and that survived for smaller craft right into the
The elliptical shape is a constant of 17th century 20th century has been discussed in international
civil architecture. It probably seeped into the naval anthropological and archaeological literature ever
architecture milieu as a consequence, a process since Hasslöf ’s seminal essay of 1972 (Hasslöf
that was strengthened by developing notions in 1972). That the same processes applied to the larger
physics and astronomy. The segments of ellipse merchant vessels of the Early Modern period, has
traced by Judichær, however, do not belong to become patently obvious through the analysis of
the early baroque practice of the oval, traced by the construction of a range of large and middle
means of sweeps and triangles, or to the trigono- large vessels of which the archaeological data and
metrical approach proposed in 1628, but to the contextual information have become available
realm of descriptive geometry rooted in Dürer over the last decades (Maarleveld 1992; 2013).
and mathematized by Descartes. This is not sur- Larger flush-planked vessels, like smaller ones, were
prising since Judichær, as a mathematician, had basically built in a shell-first sequence, for which
knowledge of Descartes’ works (Ditta 2014, p. spijkerpennen in regular perpendicular rows on
26). And through his mentor Ole Rømer, member both sides of a seam in the planking are the char-
of the French Academy of Sciences until 1681, he acteristic archaeological evidence (fig. 7). These are
was possibly aware of the French scientific debate, small wooden plugs filling a hole left by a removed
from which the method of Renau d’Élissagaray nail or spike in order to prevent the timber to rot
emerged (Fried­richsen and Olsen 2004). These at that point. In transverse rows they represent
debates could not have escaped mathematicians temporary clamps holding the planks together
and engineers in the Dutch Republic, but saw no during construction. Christian Lemée convinc-
application in the practice of shipbuilding, as we ingly showed how some of the temporary clamps
will see in the following. may have doubled as a mould for a particular angle
between keel and garboard or between planks at
the turn of the bilge (Lemée 2006, p. 173). Guid-
4. Shipbuilding in the Dutch Republic ance for angles is an important aspect in shell-first
shipbuilding (Christensen 1972; De Leeuwe
The shipbuilding industry in the Dutch Republic 2004, pp. 31-36). Moreover, a range of analytical,
was booming business and quite central to its experimental and archaeological research, includ-
enormous economic development at the end of ing that of Lemée, suggests that several aids and
the 16th century (Unger 1978; de Vries, van appliances have – if necessary or useful – assisted in
der Woude 1995). Wealth and development realizing a cross-section that is wished for (Lemée
were overwhelming (Schama 1988) and the in- 2006, p. 192). This is also confirmed by the scant
tellectual climate proffered every possibility for written and pictorial evidence, as well as supported
science, art and innovation. At least, that is how by later discussions and later ways of building a
we understand or like to understand the Zeitgeist wide variety of ship types in the Low Countries. In
of the Dutch Republic in the 16th, 17th and at least fact, both the historical, the archaeological and the
the first part of the 18th centuries. But does that anthropological evidence shows that Dutch ship-
mean that the two – shipbuilding and scientific building – or more specifically building ships in the
innovation – went hand in hand? It seems so very Dutch Flush manner – comprises a whole toolbox
likely, both to us who look at the past as a foreign of skills-based rules and techniques that could be
country (Lowenthal 1986) as for contemporary drawn upon to support the builder’s eye in shaping
observers from abroad. In fact, it is hard to imag­ the hull and assisting him in control of symmetry
ine they were more or less completely separate. along the main axis. One could argue that some

Albrecht Dürer 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 tom may or may not continue into swimheads
boat or ship’s side above the turn of the bilge are fore and aft, but a hard chine is quite characteristic
often not so much ‘plank-led’ or fully consistent and so is the fact that the construction of the bot-
with shell-first building processes, as ‘frame-led’. tom and the fitting of the sides are quite separate
But that does not change the fact that a substantial processes. In the Dutch Flush way of building
part of the shell of planking is formed before any larger, relatively flat-bottomed ships, similar ap-
or most internal timbers are shaped and that even proaches are encountered. And these, as well as
when some timbers are mounted, the process of shell-techniques used in hulls with overlapping
thinking is still basically oriented towards the shell strakes, constitute the main evidence to surmise
of planking: plank-oriented to use the terminology strong traditions of continuity in shipbuilding
introduced by McGrail (1995, p. 143). All empha- all through the ‘high’ Middle Ages and well into
sis is on fairing, on smooth strakes of planking fore modern times. This also means, however, that shell-
and aft. The planking (‘huid’ which equals ‘skin’ construction and bottom-based construction are
or ‘shell’ in Dutch) is the defining element in the not mutually exclusive. If they can be distinguished
creative process, in the modelling of the ship. That at all, they are certainly intermingled in the Dutch
is reflected in the sequence of building: first the Flush solutions, where one sees a sort of constant
planks, than the timbers. alternation between round-bottomed hulls, and
Let us dwell some more on the simple and basic, (cheaper!) flat-bottomed varieties (Huitema 1962;
useful distinction that has become customary in the Dorleijn 1998). As the ‘round-bottomed’ vessels
nautical archaeological trade. Italian, Iberian and often display notable s-sections in bow and stern,
many other ‘carvel’ ships are shaped on the basis and lack the clear distinction between bottom and
of the cross-section and its physical representation, sides (both in form and building procedure) the
the frame, or rather the skeleton of frames. Dutch concept of bottom-based construction seems to be
Flush ships are shaped on the basis of the shell less applicable to their sharpest varieties, whereas it
of planking. ‘Skeleton construction’ versus ‘Shell is perfectly applicable to the ‘flat-bottomed’ vessels.
construction’. Fred Hocker (2004), in attempt to A nice example of the alternation between ‘round’
emulate on this while integrating the analysis by and ‘flat’-bottomed varieties is found if one consid-
Rieth (1978), has distinguished a third principle: ers the ‘waterschepen’ of the Zuiderzee and their
‘bottom-based construction’. It is a useful concept cheaper flat-bottomed successors, the ‘botter’ and
to consider in our understanding of developments. ‘kwak’, not to speak of the even more basic ‘schok-
It describes the approach encountered in the con- ker’ and ‘schouw’, as well as the again more sophisti-
struction of simple craft with a flat bottom and cated round-bottomed ‘bol’, ‘aak’ and ‘blazer’ (figs.
steep sides. These may or may not have a central 8, 9). Archaeologically, a sample of 41 waterschepen,
element or ‘keel plank’, and the flat of their bot- mostly of the 16th and 17th century has been inves-

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

tigated (Verwey et al. 2012). The examples predat- from overlapping to flush strakes has not led to any
ing 1500 AD are all built with overlapping strakes. fundamental changes in shape. The cross-section
In English one would say ‘clinker-built’, although is similar, although subject to quite some variety.
strictly speaking they are not clinkered. By the end Formal, or rather mathematically derived criteria
of the 16th century all waterschepen are built with or proportions do not seem to be present. This is
flush-laid planking. Interestingly, the transition equally true for the simplified cross-sections of
its successors. The waterschepen and later types
mentioned are mainly fishing vessels of a reason-
able 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 al-
ternate 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 (Lemée 2006; Van Duivenvoorde
2008; Maarleveld 2013). In terms of building
fig. 8 – The Waterschip VAL7 was lifted for documentation in 2009. processes such variety seems to be characteristic.
Like other waterschepen it has a relatively sharp underwater hull It is to be explained in terms of the large degree of
with a clear S-section. Although built in a Dutch Flush manner,
the concept of bottom-based construction is less appropriate for the freedom that the bottom-based and other Dutch
description of this hull (photo: Wouter Waldus). Flush approaches offered, while integrating a range

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 Dürer 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 very general indeed and must be taken as a set of
round-bottomed tjalk and a cheaper flat-bottomed praam – both skills-based rules of thumb, rather than anything
from the 19th century – are juxtaposed (M. Ditta, based on van else. It is quite different from proportional rules
Konijnenburg 1895-1905, III, 27 and Sopers 1947, p. 94). of design that address form and section that are
so typical of the introduction of scientific, which
of practices and frame oriented aids and appliances is mathematical, principles in Renaissance archi-
in a shell-first building procedure. tecture, and that define the discourse on building
better, larger and more prestigious ships in other
parts of Europe from the 14th century onwards.
5. Nicolaes Witsen and the interpretation of True, Witsen does present an approach that is
written sources often interpreted as representing Dutch design of
a master frame (Witsen 1671, pp. 150-152) (fig.
In turn, the archaeological data on larger merchant 11). But as Hoving (2012, p. 18) noted, there
ships helps to guide our understanding of the is nothing that indicates that the mathematical
processes and technology as inferred from contem- approach that Witsen presents relates to reality
porary documents. Skills-based rules are certainly in the shipyards of the Low Countries. It is not
applied. Some of these are formalised and more- corroborated by any archival material; it does not
or-less codified. In Witsen’s book of the late 17th accord with Witsen’s own description of the con-
century quite a few of these are reproduced and struction of a 134 foot Pinas; neither is it in fact
commented upon (Witsen 1671; Hoving 2012). corroborated by archaeology. Hoving’s inference is
Besides tricks to assist in the building process, that Witsen made up his scientific model to show
they mostly take the form of proportions between that he, as a scientist, is aware of such approaches
the scantlings of different elements, representing elsewhere (Witsen 1671, pp. 195-208). Like other
adequate proportional strength (Witsen 1671, intellectuals of his time, he is after all thoroughly
pp. 65-117). This is similar to the rules on the influenced by the world-view discussed above, in
recommended weight of anchors or strengths of which reality reflects a proportional masterplan
cables, rigging and ropes (Witsen 1671, pp. 117- that can be mathematically described. But he is
133). An exception perhaps is the general table not very firm at all, and his attempt to theoretically
of proportions that Witsen derives from master describe what he observed is ill-succeeded (Hoving
shipbuilder Jan Dirrikze Grebber (Witsen 1671, 2012, p. 18). This is consistent with our image of
p. 114; Hoving 2012, p. 16). But this table is a prudent and curious collector of information

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

readers, Peter was not at all satisfied with Witsen’s

book. He was not interested in erudite histori-
cal exposés, but in theory and the mathematical
principles applied according to the doctrine of
proportions. At first he mistrusts the sincerity of
Witsen’s 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 Witsen’s
descriptive observations (Hoving 2012; Maar-
leveld 2013). Nor is there any reason to doubt
his sincerity, or surmise that he knowingly with-
fig. 12 – Witsen may have based his ‘method’ on Georges Fournier’s held information, as Peter suspected. The present
Hydrographie of 1643, but it is as likely that he based it on body of archaeological data for small, larger and
Furttenbach’s Architectura Navalis of 1629 (M. Ditta).
big vessels of his period, in combination with
what we can infer from longue durée development
and ideas (who hardly ever credited his sources; relating to shipbuilding in the area, does hardly
Peters 2010, p. 40), but who was less systematic allow for another interpretation, and does hardly
as an analyst (Maarleveld 2013, p. 349). In fact allow for attempts to integrate his work in overall
his model does not represent Dutch design at all. trends of ‘scientific’ shipbuilding. Dutch practice,
Hoving suggests that he borrowed it from Georges while exposed to the best mathematical minds,
Fournier’s ‘Hydrographie’ of 1643, but it is even remained immune to their theories of section. It is
more likely it builds on Furttenbach (1629), a only during the 18th century that this will change,
text Witsen extensively studied (Hoving 2008, p. and then only in specific institutional contexts.
29) (fig. 12). Interestingly, as we have seen in the The changeover, in other words, is institutionally
previous section, many students of Witsen’s book inspired (Maarleveld 1992, p. 169). But even
have assumed that his method did indeed give the then the changeover does not interfere with the
basis for Dutch design, which it doesn’t. large variety of hull forms or with the simultane-
Witsen himself is convinced that no mathematical ously continued practice of shell-first building
rules or principles are being applied in the ship- procedures.
building industry in the Dutch Republic. In his Whereas Peter was frustrated by the fact that no
book this is obscured by the fact that he refers to theory was revealed, other late 17th century ob-
proportional scantlings and overall templates in servers, such as Arnoul and Rålamb were just as
terms of fundamental principles (Witsen 1671, surprised. Arnoul remarks that no rules for dividing
p. 53). But it becomes very clear in a letter he and calculating the sweeps of the cross-sections
writes in 1694 in answer to a request from Czar were adopted (Arnoul 1670, p. 12), and like
Peter, in which he clearly states that he does not Peter, he finds his observations in England more
give any measures for ships and yachts, because rewarding. They fit better to his thinking. Rålamb
this is impossible. In Witsen’s experience every is appalled and uneasy that Dutch shipbuilders
shipbuilder determines what he thinks is the best, work at random without theory (Rålamb 1691,
using his practice and experience. Peter, quite prel.v). Profound misunderstanding is the result,
like many modern shipbuilders or archaeologists, or rather … lies at its basis.
does not seem to believe him. Nor does he want For educated outsiders it is incredibly hard to
to accept that the shipbuilding methods that Wit- conceive and concede that it is practice rather than
sen describes do allow for a more-or-less endless theory that informs the shipbuilding industry of
flexibility and variety, rather than a set number of the Dutch Republic, and even harder to concede
types (Raptschinsky 1925, pp. 114-116). Peter that relying on practice and skills-based rules was
is certainly right that it is counterintuitive that a very rational decision. Rational, that is in the
shipbuilding and scientific innovation would not context of the fine-grained, hugely intertwined,
go hand in hand in the literate and economically hugely efficient, but decentralized economics of
thriving merchant Republic. Like many modern the merchant Republic. Less rational perhaps in

Albrecht Dürer 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 1669-
1671, of Rålamb, 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 supe-
riors, was such that they looked for differences at the
theoretical level, and possibly for superior solutions
fig. 13 – Mathew Baker’s Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry
in managing the theory they were familiar with. opens with an iconic image in which the master shipwright-artist-
They could not think out of the box or imagine scientist wields a giant-sized pair of compasses over the lines plan of a
that none of this applied. This has had a profound ship. Its use of perspective is a statement in which Baker draws on the
prestigious artistry and mathematics of Dürer to present his identity
but blurring influence on our understanding and as a shipwright and designer. Moreover – note the drawer under the
on the way we tend to look at the development of table – the image is a direct copy from Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut in
shipbuilding in a teleological way. More profoundly fig. 1 (Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge).
still, it has distorted our understanding of the pro-
cesses determining transfer of technology. It is quite clear that Baker was familiar with
Dürer’s handbook, but also that he finds inspira-
tion in it. A striking similarity between Dürer’s
6. Early Modern England, from Dürer to Underweysung and Baker’s Fragments lies in the
Mathew Baker spirit of their work. Although Fragments survived
as a notebook, the original intent seems to have
Interested observers, such as Czar Peter and Ar- been that of a presentation volume (Barker 1986,
noul were disappointed by the fact that it was p. 161). Texts and images address an audience,
practice rather than theory, which informed the probably first and foremost Baker’s pupils and
shipbuilding industry in the Dutch Republic apprentices. This didactic dimension is very clear
and turned their eyes to England where they in sentences like: «…in this division observe all
encountered the expected theoretical doctrines the rules before taught…» (Baker 1570, p. 40) or
and treatises (Arnoul 1670, p. 12; Peters 2010, «Now that I have showed how to know the ton-
p. 162). More than a century earlier Mathew nage of a ship …» (Baker 1570, p. 154). What is
Baker with his manuscript known as Fragments more, just like Dürer, Baker connected previously
of Ancient English Shipwrightry had beyond any unrelated domains. Similarity of concept and the
doubt been the first to connect mathematics and use of mathematics applied to a craft thus bind the
ship design. Despite the fragmentary nature of two works. The relationship, however, is further
this collection, Fragments is an outstanding work. demonstrated by the first and iconic image of the
It differs from both Venetian and Iberian texts in manuscript (fig. 13). It shows a master shipwright
that it incorporates innovative uses of paper, not and an assistant at work in a drawing office, where
just to reproduce text but also for detailed and the master wields a giant-sized pair of compasses
finely finished scale drawings (Johnston 1994, over the lines plan of a ship. Besides its novel rep-
p. 120). Through the use of paper Baker was able resentation of drafting a plan on paper, the image
to perform calculations related to ship dimensions is built on a perspective scheme which was still a
and volume. But he could also engage in thought novelty in 16th century England. Baker’s use of
experiments exploring design adaptations and perspective is a sort of manifesto to his grasp of
solve hypothetical problems (Johnston 1994, p. geometry. But Baker’s image is also a direct copy
110). Moreover, notes and paper allowed him to from the final woodcut in Albrecht Dürer’s Un-
translate the problems of the shipwright into the derweysung. It is not the only reference to Dürer’s
language of the mathematician and vice versa. work. For his extensive use of scaled drawings in
Barring this, Baker’s calculations and contacts relation to ships of different carrying capacity,
with mathematical practitioners would have been Baker needed a ratio between the linear dimen-
incomprehensible and impossible. sions and the tonnage calculations, for which he

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

used the cube root of the latter (Barker 1986, p. building of Ships, Mathew Baker our countryman»
173). Baker described the method as simple: «to (Borough 1581, sig. 3v).
him that hath the extracting of roots the matter But do the intellectual development and the
is very easy & to be done with the pen» (Baker theoretically founded identity of the high status
1570, p. 26). Without the arithmetical knowledge shipwright have a measurable impact on the final
of cube roots, however, Baker could accomplish product, the finished warship or merchantman?
the same result with a graphical construction due Was theory in this case superior to practice? While
to «a certain rule that I found in Albartus Düreri written sources are plentiful, archaeological evi-
in his book of Geometry» (Baker 1570, ibidem). dence for shipbuilding in Early Modern England
So Baker not only used Dürer for constructing his is rare. Although a number of wrecks are known,
preface’s image but directly used Underweysung der only few are well preserved and have been studied
Messung for solving the problem of doubling the and published (Adams 2003; Auer, Maarleveld
cube with straight lines and compasses. 2014; Bojakowski, Custer-Bojakowski 2011;
Johnston (1994, pp. 108-109), in fact, believes that Marsden 2009). The picture that emerges from
Baker was deliberately assembling his identity as a those studies is anything but homogenous as there
shipwright and designer, drawing elements from seem to be considerable differences in construction
the prestigious artistry and mathematics of Dürer. (Adams 2013; Auer, Maarleveld 2014).
Whereas Dürer used mathematics in his pursuit of
beauty and elevating the figure of the craftsman to
that of the artist, Baker’s construction of his iden- 7. An archaeological example
tity as a master shipwright was based on exactly the
same resource. He adopted a rhetoric of arithmetic One example of an English merchant vessel of the
and geometry instead of the technical language of late 16th century is the Princes Channel Wreck or
the carpenter and rejected the work of his prede- Gresham Ship (fig. 14). It was discovered as a result
cessors, because they had been unable to provide of navigational dredging in the Thames Estuary
a ‘scientific’ rationale for their technical decisions and fully excavated in 2004 (Auer, Maarleveld
(Johnston 1994, p. 139). For Baker, arithmetic 2014). The excavated and recovered remains con-
and geometry were «two supporting sciences» sist of the bow and a run of the portside 14m in
(Baker 1570, p. 33) and «two supporting pillars of length, from just above the turn of the bilge to the
every art» (Baker 1570, p. 34). Nevertheless, Baker level of the lowermost deck. The Gresham Ship was
conceived of arithmetic and geometry in a specific built after September 1574 from timber sourced
craft-oriented way. Dürer was primarily interested in eastern England, most probably East Anglia
in the graphical construction of geometrical and and Essex. It had an approximate overall length
therefore theoretical figures using his craftsman’s at deck level of 24.7 m and a tonnage of 223.5.
tools. Baker in using mathematics started from a The armament consisted of 10-12 guns of varying
concrete and manual starting point rather than types. This would have made the ship a medium
taking a fully abstract approach. The arithmetic sized trading vessel, which could certainly sail in
demonstrations found in Fragments were done European waters, but for which journeys further
“with the pen” while geometry was operationalized overseas were not out of reach either. A merchant
by using the compass and lines to produce plans vessel like the Gresham Ship would probably have
and elevations, as a sort of geometrical demonstra- been a common sight on the Ocean in the 16th
tion (Johnston 1994, pp. 141-142). century.
The intellectual novelty of Baker’s approach to his What information, however, does the construction
role as shipwright and his legacy Dürer were already offer on practice on English merchant dockyards
recognized by his contemporaries. In the Preface to in the late 16th century? Does the application of
A Discours of the Variation of the Cumpas of 1581, theory reflect in the archaeological material? And
the English cartographer William Borough (1536- does the archaeological evidence allow for an in-
1599), as true child of his time refers to arithmetic terpretation of the relationship between theorists
and geometry as the basis for science and arts. and dockyard practitioners? A closer look at the
In doing so, he recognizes the practitioners who hull construction might help to elaborate these
outstandingly used this knowledge in their works: questions. One of the striking features of the wreck
«In Architecture, Vitruvius the Roman: In painting was a doubling of framing timbers from the turn
that famous German Albertus Dürerus: And in of the bilge upwards. This could be identified as

Albrecht Dürer 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,
fig. 16 – Diagram of the frame layout of the Gresham ship showing six strakes below the lowest deck and continuing
the knuckle joints and filling timbers (M. Ditta). 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
‘furring’, a radical way of rebuilding used as a underwater and as much above’ – the hull shape
remedy for tender-sided vessels. In his Seaman’s of the vessel was heavily altered at some point in
Dictionary Sir Henry Mainwaring (1587-1653) her career.
explains this process: However, besides this further peculiarities were
«The other [kind of furring], which is more eminent noted in the construction of the vessel. All floor
and more properly furring, is to rip off the first planks timbers and first futtocks are joined with inter-
and to put other timbers upon the first, and so to put locked or knuckle joints, which are fastened with

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 Ibero-
Atlantic 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 construc-
tion with an alternating progression of framing
and planking is proposed (Adams 2013, 130ff.).
Interlocked or knuckle joints like those on the fig. 17 – Isometric drawing of scarf joint between outer planks in
Gresham Ship are, however, also known from the Gresham ship (J. Auer).
the early 16th-century Yassi Ada Wreck from the
Islamic area (Steffy 1994, p. 134), and from the
Genoese Lomellina (Guérout et al. 1989, 35f.).
A lighter version of this kind of joint has been ob- laid into a groove at the bottom edge of the planks.
served in the western Mediterranean and attributed Both features warrant further discussion.
to Venice (Beltrame 2014, p. 48). In the majority The joining of strake planks with scarf joints is a
of Ibero-Atlantic wrecks, the mortises are on the well-known characteristic of clinker or lapstrake
floor timbers and face away from the master frame, ship-building. The Gresham Ship, however, is a
which might have mortises on both faces (Grenier frame-first construction with a skeleton of pre-as-
et al. 2007, III, 62f.). In the Gresham Ship, there sembled and pre-erected frames, which determine
is no change of direction around the master frame, the shape of the hull and are the main element of
all futtocks are attached aft of the floor timber. structural integrity. In such a construction, the
The only other wreck to display a break from the joining of strake planks with scarfs is technically
Ibero-Atlantic pattern of mortises facing away from unnecessary as butt joints aligned with timbers
the master frame is Lomellina. Here no consistent are adequate. Are the vertical scarf joints between
joint direction could be observed (Guérout et al. planks an archaic legacy of clinker ship-building?
1989, 35f.). While in some wrecks only the master Clinker shells are made watertight using material
frame and a selected number of frames forward laid between the overlapping strake planks, while
and aft were joined, all ten preserved floors in the carvel hulls are generally caulked with waterproof-
Gresham Ship are joined in the same way. ing material hammered into plank seams after
An interesting feature are filling timbers or filling assembly. The solution seen on the Gresham Ship
frames, which were inserted between joined pairs seems to be a crossover between both techniques.
of floor timbers and futtocks to fill the space and The shipbuilders were certainly aware of caulking,
form a continuous band of timber around the as they used it around the wale and in repairs, but
turn of the bilge. The regular occurrence of filling seemingly made a considered choice not to use
frames is otherwise only known from the Mary caulking to seal the outer hull planks. Did they not
Rose (Marsden 2009, pp. 47, 93). Altogether, trust the caulking technique? In his discussion of
this means that, in terms of its framing system, carvel ship-building in Northern Europe, Adams
the closest comparisons with the Gresham Ship reaches the conclusion that alternative waterproof-
are the older and larger Genoese merchant vessel ing solutions such as caulking seam battens on
Lomellina and to a degree the likewise substantially the inside or outside of outer hull planks might
older and larger English Mary Rose. be an expression of the lack of skill of early carvel
The outer hull planking of the Gresham Ship also shipbuilders and their “creative search for new
displays a number of constructional peculiarities. solutions even within a tradition with skills – based
Hull planks within a strake are carefully joined rules about how certain tasks should be performed”
with vertical scarf joints (fig. 17) and the planks (Adams 2003, p. 90). This might well be the case
are waterproofed with strands of tarred animal hair in the Gresham Ship as well.

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

Altogether, the Gresham Ship does not eas- ist approaches of human culture and its expres-
ily fit into our current picture of Early Modern sion in ‘cultures’. Instead, these approaches try
shipbuilding. The pre-erected frames were likely to understand individual and group agency in
pre-designed and the design of the master frame technological processes (Lemonnier 1993) and
was based on a concept of arcs (Ditta in Auer, how practice relates to identity, and identifica-
Maarleveld 2014, pp. 68-74). This means that tion with a group or overlapping groups (Insoll
the ship was conceived on the basis of mathemati- 2007). It is a theme that, with a few exceptions,
cal theory. However, this theory, or indeed its ap- seems to be quite absent in much of the literature
plication was flawed and led to a tender-sided that addresses the technicalities of shipbuilding
vessel, which had to be rebuilt using furring, a in a historical perspective. Simple explanations
process which Mainwaring describes as: «…an utter have been preferred, and simple explanations are
spoiling and disgrace to all ships that are so handled» of needs simplifications. Moreover, research has
(Perrin and Manwaring 1922, p. 53). In terms always been biased towards contexts for which
of construction, there is little similarity between consistent bodies of source material do exist. This
the Gresham Ship and other contemporary Eng- applies to the history of scientific ideas and the
lish wrecks, with the exception maybe of the older history of technical implementations alike. And
Mary Rose. Instead, constructional features found perhaps even more prominently, it applies to the
on the Gresham Ship are reminiscent of Mediter- history of the ship. With exceptions again, discus-
ranean shipbuilding, and many other features are sions have been spoon-fed by the available written
reminiscent of clinker building techniques. What sources. States, governments, centralized navies
does this tell us about dockyard practices? Maybe or corporate organizations have produced more
the contrast between design and construction, and consistent archives than other sections, such as the
the puzzling mix of seemingly archaic construction fishing industry or tramping merchant fleets. But
features is quite typical for a period of transition even since archaeological sources have started to be
and changes. Only a little more than 100 years consulted, a clear bias towards ‘ships of state’ has
before the construction of the Gresham Ship, large persisted (Cederlund 1995). Incidentally, that
clinker-built seagoing vessels were still a common bias also feeds into debates on significance and
sight around the shores of Britain, as witnessed protection in a very distorting fashion, but that
by the Newport Ship (Nayling, Jones 2014). need not concern us here.
And the large clinker-built merchant vessel U34 In many cases archaeological data has been pre-
predates the Gresham Ship by only some 46 years ferred that easily feeds into the debate, because it
(Overmeer 2008). While it has been suggested refers to known, clearly identified contexts, while
that it was built in Poland, other construction areas data that doesn’t has been neglected (Harpster
are presently considered as well (Overmeer pers. 2013). This is further enhanced by the fact that
comm.). Many of the dockyard craftsmen could still ships as heritage are associated with a historiogra-
have been used to clinker shipbuilding and when phy that is marked by parochialism, antiquarian-
confronted with problems during the construction ism, and celebratory narrative (Sawyer 2013).
of a pre-designed carvel vessel found conservative The result is that the technological history of
and practical solutions based on their personal ex- the ship has fed into the greater narratives on
perience. Maybe the inconsistency between efforts transfer of technology in a way that strengthens
at theoretical design and practical craftsmanship is the national narratives of naval powers. Partly,
an accurate reflection of the situation in English this can be explained from the continued need
merchant dockyards of the late 16th century. for self-assurance in contemporary nation-states
(Cederlund, Hocker 2006; Maarleveld 2007;
Wright 2009, pp. 145-175). Partly also, it is
8. Transfer of technology, creative entropy, or self-explanatory in that generations of maritime
a dominance of practice? researchers have focused on the development and
spread of shipbuilding theory and shunned away
The examples above serve to illustrate some of from contexts where theory was not visibly at the
the peculiar ways in which technological choices forefront of development. If one studies transfer
are made. It is a theme that is deeply embedded of technology, one follows the paths where such
in archaeological approaches that try to move transfer clearly occurs. But it is as revealing to
away from unilinear, deterministic or essential- look into actual ship production and competitive

Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

advantages in terms of manpower, building speed factor. And it highlights the role of the crafts-
and demand on resources. Despite the biased fo- man, who is reduced to an automaton in some
cus on the remains of ships whose story is known systems, but who is the thinking problem-solver in
in advance, the archaeology of more anonymous others. Economists have come to look at techno-
wrecks now gradually provides that opportunity. logical change in terms of ‘macro-inventions’ and
In the preface of his solid ‘Ships and Science’ ‘micro-inventions’ (Vries 2013, p. 114). Macro-
Larrie Ferreiro argues that the separation of ship inventions are those that provide entirely new ways
theory development and construction practices by of thinking in relation to workable or improvable
nation is artificial (Ferreiro 2007, xi). All over techniques. Micro-inventions are incremental
Europe, after all, there were strong and continu- improvements in a field that is basically known.
ous links between scientists and constructors of Thinking of Early Modern shipbuilding in terms
all nations, despite the wars that were fought by of transfer of technology, more or less implies that
their sovereigns and governments. This integra- its technology is interpreted as a macro-invention.
tion is even a typical trait of Renaissance and But it begs the question whether one can interpret
Early Modern Europe (Cohen 2010; Dominic- the introduction of theory in shipbuilding as a
zak 2012, p. 1168). Intellectually, it is an aspect macro-invention at all. As we have seen in the
that is illustrated again and again, and that figures discussions on art and architecture as well as that
prominently in the discussions above on the art of Ole Judichaer, mathematical theory itself was
of defining a section, the spread of mathematical subject to incremental development over a long
ideas and their introduction in discourses on archi- period of time. But even if we wish to interpret
tecture and ship architecture. At a practical level, the introduction of design on paper as a macro-
integration is similarly evident. The workforces in invention, it was one that only applied to specific
the shipbuilding industry, as well as in naval yards contexts, contexts that were predefined as hierar-
were highly international and qualified by migrant chical and centralized.
labour (van Lottum 2007, p. 58; Hocker 2013). Moreover, innovation – and certainly innovation as
Consequently, separation of the development of discussed by economists – should lead to cheaper
ship theory by nation may indeed not be useful. procedures if not also to better ones. In the hierar-
Separation of construction practices by nation chical and centralized contexts in which theorists
may not be useful either. But the exchange of con- experimented, economy of resources may well have
struction practices clearly follows other dynamics been subordinate to the status and magnificence
than the intellectual exchange. What is more, the of the result (Adams 2013, p. 111), despite econo-
archaeological material now available clearly shows mies of scale and cheap labour. The parallel with
that a separation between theory and practice is architecture in the sense of a high status transfor-
essential if we are ever to understand how transfer mation of space is striking in this aspect as well.
of technology really occurs. In the practice dominated shipbuilding industry of
Archaeology – and the Princes Channel wreck is the Dutch Republic the available supply of planks
a good example – illustrates how theory has been and timber is defining, perhaps even normative. It
applied in practice. But at least as significantly it is deliberately sourced along distant supply lines.
provides us with detail on the choices of individual Higher staff-costs are offset by relative freedom
craftsmen. It highlights the repertoire of techniques in conversion, in which each crutch, or crooked
they are familiar with. It highlights cultural prefer- timber can be used in an optimal way. Dutch Flush
ences and problem solving traditions (Maarleveld approaches proved extremely cost-effective in terms
1995; Schweitzer forthcoming). It highlights of timber resources, and the shipyards could pro-
reluctance to instructions that individual carpen- duce competitively as a result. Frugal timber use is
ters do not believe in. It highlights organizational cited by all foreign observers, despite their dislike
issues and individual skills (Hocker 2013). It is for the absence of theory and system.
also illustrative of the decision-making process. But change – and considerable change – hap-
Discussions on transfer of technology and creative pened more-or-less independent of theory as well.
innovation can profit from this. Archaeology also Ranges of new and more specialized vessels were
shows how fashionable theory can be defied – and developed in northern Europe all through the pe-
the Dutch Flush merchant ships are a case in point. riod discussed. In the centralized new monarchies
Distinguishing between the spread of ideas and the where theoreticians were appointed to high status
spread of practices highlights the organizational positions of managing shipbuilding or shipbuilding

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

programmes this process may be slightly more driv- Auer J., Th.J. Maarleveld (eds.) 2014, The Gresham Ship
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ordnance in Venice and Europe between the 15th and the 17th
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The exchange of construction practices provides
Bojakowski P., Custer-Bojakowski K. 2011, The Warwick:
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Massimiliano Ditta, Jens Auer, Thijs Maarleveld

processes at work in that seething shipbuilding environment are storia dello sviluppo scientifico e tecnologico. Albrecht Dürer è
almost completely immune to the (ship-) architectural theorizing presentato come un attore cruciale nella visione rinascimentale
that bestows other parts of Europe. The consequences of this del mondo in trasformazione in cui la bellezza – e la conoscenza
for our interpretation of written sources – notably Witsen – are tecnologica – è fondata su un ordine divino che può essere
discussed, before some focus is put on Mathew Baker’s England descritto in termini matematici. È una visione del mondo
and the archaeological example of the Princes Channel wreck. che ispirò teoria e sperimentazione sia in architettura che in
The comparative approach of the essay leads to a critical assess- architettura navale, ma non necessariamente in maniera pratica
ment of unilinear explanations, and thus derides their usefulness o affidabile. Nella costruzione navale inglese, francese e danese,
in present day development thinking. Whereas the Early Mod- specialmente nella costruzione di grandi navi per la flotta del
ern period in Europe was typified by intellectual integration as re, è ricercata e adoperata la meravigliosa ellisse, ma armonia
well as an integration of labour markets that would seemingly e innovazione sono raggiunte in maniere abbastanza differenti
foster unified development, the archaeological evidence clearly nella repubblica olandese. I dati archeologici dimostrano chi-
demonstrates that theory and practice are two different worlds aramente che i processi in atto in quel ribollente ambiente della
that need to be approached separately, if fundamental – and costruzione navale sono quasi completamente immuni alle teoriz-
continuous – misunderstanding is to be avoided. zazioni d’architettura (navale) che invece coinvolgono altre parti
d’Europa. Vengono quindi discusse le conseguenze di tale aspetto
Keywords: Renaissance, Mathematics, Shipbuilding, in relazione all’interpretazione delle fonti scritte – specialmente
Architecture, History of Science, Transfer of Technology. di Witsen – prima di un approfondimento sull’Inghilterra di
Mathew Baker e dell’esempio archeologico del relitto Princess
Riassunto Channel. L’approccio comparativo del saggio porta verso un
giudizio critico di spiegazioni unilineari, e così deride la loro
utilità nel pensiero odierno emergente. Mentre la prima età
Albrecht Dürer e le navi mercantili della prima età moderna. moderna in Europa era caratterizzato da integrazione intellet-
Una riflessione sulla diffusione di idee e sul trasferimento di tuale così come da un’integrazione del mercato del lavoro che
tecnologia.  In questo saggio gli autori presentano una rifles- avrebbe in apparenza favorito uno sviluppo unificato, l’evidenza
sione sui processi che circondano l’accettazione delle nuove archeologica dimostra chiaramente che teoria e pratica sono due
idee e quello che è genericamente chiamato “trasferimento mondi diversi che devono essere affrontati separatamente, se si
tecnologico”. Essi lo fanno collegando l’emergente conoscenza vuole evitare un’incomprensione di base – e continua –.
archeologica della continuità e del cambiamento nelle pratiche
di costruzione navale in diverse parti dell’Europa all’inizio Parole chiave: Rinascimento, matematica, costruzione navale,
della storia moderna, con la consolidata e nuovamente riscritta architettura, storia della scienza, trasferimento di tecnologia.

S o c i e t à   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 dei relitti
marittimi di molti paesi, ha l’obiettivo di accendere i ri-

flettori sulle enormi potenzialità dei relitti di età storica, postmedievali
mettendo a confronto, da un lato, approcci diversi (di
ambito mediterraneo ma anche statunitense, australia-
no e nord europeo), dall’altro, contesti archeologici con
caratteristiche altrettanto diverse per l’ambiente di gia-
citura e per l’impiego civile o militare dell’imbarcazio-
ne. Gli studi, diacronici ma incentrati sul Cinquecento
e sull’Ottocento, coprono le varie sfaccettature dell’in-
dagine storica dei relitti di età postmedievale quali la
costruzione navale, il commercio e la vita di bordo, ma
anche aspetti di tipo squisitamente metodologico quali
l’archeologia sperimentale navale. Si tratta di una novi-
tà assoluta per l’editoria scientifica italiana in cui questo
particolare, ma molto promettente, ambito della ricerca
archeologica non aveva ancora trovato adeguato spazio.
of Post-Medieval
a cura di Carlo Beltrame

€ 36,00
ISSN 1592-5935
ISBN 978-88-7814-618-1

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