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Deutsches Technikmuseum - "Architectura navalis – Floating Baroque"

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Image: The image shows a pen-and-ink-drawing of a three-masted ship with billowing sails. Underneath it can be seen a few splotches of blue ink.

Exhibition Poster © BNF; image: Schiel-Projekt GmbH

Photo: The castles´ division into three distinct levels can clearly be seen – this is one of the first manifestations of land-based architecture´s influence on shipbuilding.

The German carrack JESUS VON LÜBECK (ca. 1512) was one of the first ships whose construction exhibits a clear division into separate levels © SDTB / photo: C. Kirchner

Photo: A protruding balcony parapet is a prominent feature of this beige-brown model ship. Above it can be seen the coat of arms of Brandenburg.

The ROTER LÖWE (ca. 1597), with a ceremonial balcony underneath the aftercastle © SDTB / photo: C. Kirchner

Photo: The stern of this model ship is studded with golden ornamentation and figures. At the very top rises the central golden stern lantern.

The SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS (ca. 1637), the first 100-cannon ship of the line. It is divided into several levels, features a pediment, and is covered with decorative carving. © SDTB / photo: C. Kirchner

Photo: The colors red and gold predominate on this ship, which features rows of putti and caryatids (load-bearing female figures). The monarch, atop a white horse and brandishing a sword, rides across the pediment, which is decorated to look like a stage.

FRIEDRICH WILHELM ZU PFERDE, a two-decker from Electoral Brandenburg (wooden model, ca. 1681) © SDTB / photo: C. Kirchner

Drawing: The drawing contains many highly symbolic elements. There is a portrait of Louis XIV, the "Sun King," on the pediment, whereas the middle level features the royal French coat of arms with the fleurs-de-lis.

LE BRILLANT: Plan of the stern facade, Jean Bérain, 1690 © Musée national de la Marine, Paris

Drawing: This figurehead design shows a male angel, outfitted with a belt across his naked torso and carrying two trumpets in his right hand.

L’AMBITIEUX: Plan of the beakhead, Jean Bérain, 1691 © Service historique de la Défense, Vincennes

Drawing: The quarter gallery in this drawing has a row of windows in the middle level and an oval window in the pediment. On the left side there is a soldier´s uniform underneath the stern lantern.

LE SAINT LOUIS: Plan of a quarter gallery, Jean Bérain, 1693 © Musée national de la Marine, Paris

"Architectura navalis – Floating Baroque"

Navigation Exhibition, New building, 2nd Floor

11 October 2018 to 13 October 2019

What do the tall ships of the Baroque era (ca. 1575-1770) have in common with the palaces of Louis XIV?

The exhibition introduces visitors to the expressiveness and majestic forms of Baroque art, and provides surprising answers to this perhaps unusual question.

Photo: The stern of this model ship has two rows of windows and a balcony. It culminates in a pediment on which two golden soldiers pose next to a royal portrait.

The ALEXANDER NEVSKY: This model of a 74-cannon Russian ship of the line, launched in 1787, shows a variant in the development of architectural stern design. © SDTB / photo: C. Kirchner

It shows the mutual influence between royal ship design and monumental architecture, and how this development helped generate the central motifs of Late Baroque art, known as Rococo.

At the center of it all is the evolution of the ship’s stern, especially in Baroque France. Shipbuilding there was marked by strict organizational structures, highly qualified artists and scientists, and close personal links to the world of palace architecture. For precisely these reasons – thus the hypothesis of the exhibition – the origin of Rococo can be traced to French shipbuilding of the time.

Architecture as a Means of Portraying Sovereign Power

It was above all absolute rulers like the "Sun King," Louis XIV, and his successor Louis XV who invested major resources in the portrayal of royal authority.

This effort was not limited to monumental buildings on land. Three-masted sailing ships, whose stern area could be seen far and wide, were also designed to look like palaces. In the process the stern was transformed from a purely functional, partially decorated part of the ship into a veritable building facade.

Graphic of analogous architectural elements of a building and a stern.

Interactive presentation comparing architectural features on land and at sea © SDTB / natani

This architectural method of constructing ships – called "architectura navalis" (Latin for "naval architecture") – began a new chapter in the history of navigation. Ships exhibited typical elements of Baroque architecture familiar from chateaus and palaces: division into three levels, ceremonial balconies and doors, cornices, pediments, portrait medallions, risalits, squinches, pedestals, and hood moulds. Our interactive presentation illustrates this development.

Transfer from Land to Sea, and Back Again

Over a series of creative steps, the architectural components and design principles of monumental facades on land were adapted to fit the complex form of the ship’s hull. Decorative elements, such as the shell ornamentation long found on ships, were also incorporated into this process and transformed in a special way.

Photo: The splendid blue stern is divided into three levels. Golden load-bearing figures on the lower level support the middle level. A golden balustrade runs along the upper level, which culminates in a spacious pediment.

The SOLEIL ROYAL, launched ca. 1690, was one of the most magnificent ships of the line built during the reign of the "Sun King," Louis XIV. The stern exhibits elements typical of Baroque architecture. © SDTB / photo C. Kirchner

Photo: A wooden model ship with the pediment broken off. As a construction model, it is open on one side to show the ribs. The inscription "LE VENGEUR" appears clearly on the nameplate.

LE VENGEUR: Construction model built ca. 1765 to a scale of 1:48. To achieve the impression of a unified architectural design, the quarter galleries are extended downard, harmoniously following the line of the transom. © Musée national de la Marine, Paris

The process of design transfer did not go in merely one direction. After land-based architecture was adapted to ships, the Rococo period witnessed a formal retranslation from sea back to land. The asymmetries, spatial divisions, and contours of ship architecture – especially with the motif of the scalloped shell edge – were incorporated into the interior design of monumental buildings.

Magnificent Model Ships, Giant Clam Shells, and Design Drawings

Exquisite model ships, art objects, design drawings, and architectural fragments are displayed over 250 square meters of exhibition space.

Highlights include an eighteenth-century construction model of a ship with the ribs exposed, a giant clam shell with a diameter of ca. 100 cm, and reproductions of stunning plans sketched by the leading ship designers – Jean Bérain (1640-1711) and François-Antoine Vassé (1681-1736) – on whose basis real ships were built.

Research and planning for the exhibition were carried out in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University.

Companion Volume

A companion volume to the exhibition, Floating Baroque: The Ship as Monumental Architecture
is available from be.bra Verlag.
(ISBN 978-3-89809-154-1 English / ISBN 978-3-89809-153-4 German, 160 pages,
150 color images, softcover with flaps, including a pop-up model ship, 24 euros)



Drawing: The three-part design shows the stern, quarter gallery, and bow of a French warship. It is decorated with putti, eagles, and seashells.

LE FOUDROYANT ("the lightning-hurler"): Plan of the stern facade, quarter gallery, and bow, François-Antoine Vassé, 1723. The iconographic program alludes to attributes of the king. © Service historique de la Défense, Vincennes

Header image:
Pen-and-ink-drawing of a three-masted ship with billowing sails, partially covered with blue ink blots. © BNF / image: Schiel-Projekt GmbH