A visit to the Venice Maritime Museum, and the folklore of the sea
The sun was shining brightly, warming the morning air.
Along the water, people were sitting in outdoor cafes and pizzerias, enjoying the sun and the parade of costumes and masks.
Dozens of little stalls were offering face paintings, which you can wear instead of a mask.
We decided to visit the Naval maritime museum.
Venice has a long history of being a strong maritime republic, and the museum offers a wonderful retrospective of the development, design and decorations of ships.
Beside the war weapons, which I had very little interest at, the museum houses a wonderful collection of model boats, and original parts, sculptures and decorations that were used to decorate the old and very beautiful boats.
It is a wonderful museum and it really gives a good glimpse into the intricate work that went into making boats, in old times.
The most impressive was the model of the ceremonial ship of the Duke of Venice, which used to be so ornate, that EVERY column and pole, was a sculpture.
It had lions and mystical sea creatures, guardians and gods, all carved from wood and gilded with gold.
They say the interior was even more magnificent.
The ship was used by the Duke once a year during ceremonies, in which the Duke dropped a large ring into the water, from the beautiful ship, to symbolize the marriage of Venice to the sea…
As I walked around the museum, I thought about how boats have changed since the old days.
In the old days, the emphasis was on decorating the exterior of the ships with gold leaf wooden sculptures, depicting sea guardians, mystical sea creatures, half man- half fish creatures (like mermaids, but only men) with long medusa-like hair, angels and horses or lions that are half sea snakes, while today the emphasis is on sleek minimal design and comfortable living quarters, with no ornamentation at all.
Perhaps those who go to sea today, are less focused on surviving the stormy sea, and on safe returns….., and are more focused on the joy of sailing, fishing, and living on the water.
Which brings me to another charming exhibition that we saw there…..
It was a collection of small paintings, each painted by a sailor who survived the very stormy sea.
It was a common Italian tradition, that if a sailor encountered a near death encounter at sea, he would paint a small painting which he would gift to his local church, as a way of giving thanks for the Grace of God, which saved his life…
One church donated these innocent and naive paintings, to the maritime museum.
I found them very charming….
They were definitely NOT done by professional painters, considering how realistically the painters at those time painted…( some of these paintings dated as early as the 1500’s, while others, were from the end of the 1800’s)
I imagined by the simple techniques, that they were painted by the sailors themselves, or by their children, wives, or by a neighbor or someone close to them.
I am adding some images of these charming sea paintings above.
The sea and the ocean always held a fascination for people….
Even today, we have not yet developed the instruments that could sustain the pressure to explore the depths of the ocean….. The ocean is STILL an unexplored mystery to us…….
Imagine how it was five or six hundreds of years ago….
People gazed into the dark blue ocean and imagined….. What did exist below the mirror like surface…..
Could the sea be a mirror-reflection of the heavens above…. People always wondered…. And when they did…. Their imaginations run wild…… Myths and stories were born… and art was created…
The link between paintings and the sea…. Is an occurring theme in many folklore stories of many countries.
I will end with a famous old Chinese folklore story:
Once upon a time, there was a young fisherman, who lived by the sea.
He was kind and gentle and he loved to paint…. In fact… He drew paintings whenever he had the time.
One day, the sea was harsh, and he hardly made it back to shore….
That night, he dreamt that an old man rose from the sea, and gave him a magic paintbrush…… The old man asked him to use it to help the poor village people.
When he woke up, he found the magic paintbrush resting on his old wooden desk….
From that day on, he used the paintbrush to help everyone.
When a drought struck the region, and people had no water for their fields, he drew a river and the river came to life.
People channeled the new river water into their fields and everyone was happy….
When he saw it was difficult for people to till the land, he drew horses or buffaloes and the animals came to life.
People harnessed the animals to till the land easily.
Whenever he saw a need, he used his magic paintbrush to help the people, and the tale of his magic brush spread across the land….
One day a greedy and powerful man, heard about the magic paint brush which could turn everything to life….
He imprisoned the young fisherman and confiscated the magic paint brush.
Then he invited many his friends to a banquet at his home, to feast and to display the magic paintbrush.
He drew a lot of pictures, but none of them become real.
He was very upset and asked to bring the fisherman from prison.
He then promised the fisherman, that if he drew for him a painting that will come to life, he would set him free…. The fisherman agreed to do so.
The greedy man requested a painting of a tall mountain full of gold.
The fisherman dipped his brush into some blue paint…. He mixed it with a bit of water, and cleaned in on the paper… It looked like the sea….
The greedy man got angry and yelled: “Why did you draw a sea? I did not want a sea. I wanted a tall golden mountain…. Draw it quickly for me.”
The fisherman drew a golden mountain far across from the sea.
The greedy man was delighted, and requested that the fisherman draw a big ship, to take him and all of his family to the mountain of gold….. quickly!
The fisherman smiled and drew a big ship.
The greedy man called all of his concubines and wives, and they all jumped into the ship, and along came all of their powerful friends too….
When the ship sailed to the middle of the sea, the fisherman drew a large wave and some black clouds… Evoking a stormy weather, which destroyed the ship.
After that, the fisherman returned to his home by the sea, and kept helping the people by painting and bringing to life, all that was needed.