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Venetian Ships and Seafaring Up to the Nautical Revolution: A Study Based on Artistic Representations of Ships and Boats Before ca. 1450

Lillian E. Ray
Thesis: May. 1992
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program


Ships and boats were unquestionably vital to the Venetian Maritime Republic, and her ships were of extreme importance historically. Many details as to the nature of these watercraft, however, have yet to be well understood. What types of watercraft did the Republic employ? What are their characteristic features? What sails, rigging, rudders, and anchors were used? What is known of construction techniques? Three forms of evidence exist with which one can begin to answer such questions: archaeological remains of ships or boats, written documents concerning vessels, and artistic representations of watercraft.

Maritime art is an indispensable source of data for the study of nautical archaeology, however, it will never be fully utilized if such material is not completely cataloged and analyzed. The pictorial data concerning Venetian ships and boats have never been adequately studied. This thesis, therefore, focuses on the medieval art of the Veneto region in order to present a catalog and analysis of the Venetian ship and boat representations dating prior to the second half of the 15th century.

The history of Venice and the style and media of her art are inextricably interwoven. As entrepot between East and West, Venice adopted and fused into her own the artistic styles and media of both the Byzantine and European worlds. Not surprisingly, maritime images occupy a great deal of Venetian art. This fact reflects quite simply her reliance on seafaring.

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