Completed Continental European before 1800, Maritime Subjects 15 Further information sought on ‘Dutch Ships Loading Timber in a Northern Port’

Dutch Ships Loading Timber in a Northern Port
Topic: Subject or sitter

Can anyone suggest the origin of the ship shown here in stern view, centre left?

The current description at the National Maritime Museum suggests it is from the Catholic Southern Netherlands, since there is an image of the Virgin Mary on the stern with groups of worshipers standing on either side. However, I have not yet found to whom the flag flown at the stern as an ensign belongs. It shows three horizontal bands of black, orange or gold and white. In the later nineteenth century this would be Imperial Russia but not, I think, at this date.

Above the Virgin Mary on the tafferel there is also what would normally be a name (or often a town) shield. It shows a black bull 'statant' and facing left with its tail raised over its back, on a blue ground. A bull on a blue ground, with lowered tail and a sunburst in the top left corner of the shield is the arms of the Dutch inland town of Beemster. A similar one on a brown/red ground is that of Edam, but I doubt either are the case here.

The bull motif in simpler form is also on the white flag flying at the main, so 'The Black Bull' or similar may just be the name of the ship. This would not be unusual if painted for a master or owner, though the main vessel on the right, flying the arms of Amsterdam, takes rather more prominence.

Any other thoughts would be welcome and help a current enquiry about the picture.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has not been possible to find any firmer information about the flags and other emblems, but the description on Art UK has been updated as a result of this discussion.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Derek Janes,

Is it South Norway? It has the look of Risor, Krogero or one of that group. I am researching smuggling across the North Sea in the second half of the 18thC. so am taking an interest in these ports. This, presumably is rather earlier than this.

Oddly, the enquiry we received about the painting comes from Kragero (of which the symbol is a ship, not a bull): that of Risor is a tower/ castle - at least today. Whatever the ship association of the black/orange/white ensign, it has to be Catholic from the Virgin on the stern or (I suppose) Orthodox, which would include Russia if the flag pattern goes back that far: unusual but not impossible, in a Flemish picture of about 1620.

Patty Macsisak,

See also "The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667): Raison D'état, Mercantilism and Maritime Strife", Gijs Rommelse, Uitgeverij Verloren, Jan 1, 2006,, via GoogleBooks.

Is The Black Bull also pictured in the painting, "Fort Willoughby Captured by Abraham Crijnssen" on p. 159?

Thanks Patty though I'm afraid it doesn't work: the 'Wapen van Edam' (later renamed from that heraldic device as the 'Black Bull') was a 1660s warship and this one is clearly a specialized timber carrier, notably from the loading ports built into the stern. The artist here also died in 1652. The clue is really in the ensign: ie could it be Russian for such an early date or, if not, what? That might lead to some other heraldic 'black bull' place association than Edam -or nowhere at all other than concluding the vessel had that name. The mainmast flag also has a bull which can itself just be a ship-name indicator.

Responding to Art UK prompt I suggest we close this dormant discussion. It arose from a third-party enquiry to NMM about the identity/ place of origin of the ship on the left which we have not been able to resolve beyond the fact that it is a specialist timber carrier probably of Catholic allegiance.

Louis Musgrove,

Er-can I just make a suggestion.I have read the NMM description.It mentions tree trunks It looks to me as if we have finished planks here,and not tree trunks.In which case I wonder if the planks are being off loaded. In the foreground it looks to me like the men are doing that,and stacking them on the pontoon.

Thank you, Pieter. This long-dormant discussion will close after one week (by 9th March), unless significant new information emerges in the meantime.

Louis, thank you for pointing out the planks. The attached images do help to make that clear, as well as showing that they are being loaded onto the ships, as indicated in the collection's description.

Louis Musgrove,

Hi Marion-thanks for enlargements. If you look at upper left enlargement- the men are clearly pulling planks out of the water.
In the centre enlargement.Plank half in stern flap/opening.Are the planks coming out of the ship into the water???Then being loaded into little boats.If the other way round- thats an extremely difficult way to get a plank into a shipYou lift one end of a plank in water and it wants to go away from you.
In the left foreground.The body language of the man on the left looks like he is receiveing a plank to stack, from the collection in the water.Why else is there a man in the water on left,other than to assist in neat stacking??
If this was a busy exporting venue there would be a better arrangement for loading ships.If this was a place without a dock having timber delivered, then I would have thought the way to do it was drop it into the water and float it to shore.
This is my way of looking at it :-) . Other interpretations are available .
Secondly -all but one of the ships seem to have a red and white striped flag, along with differing flags.-this indicates to me Hanseatic League ships-different Baltic timber exporting ports,rather than importing ports.
The ship with the flag of interest,dark blue,gold yellow,white strips doesn't fly a Hansa flag,and like PETER I cannot find any reference to it yet :-( . Perhaps the white flag ( with blue animal ???) on the centre mast of that ship might give a clue.

I don't think the picture bears an over-literalistic interpretation. Its clearly enough a 'wild scene' rather than an obvious port and that being so the main anomaly is why all the timber shown is not in fact 'tree trunks' as the current NMM text says but apparently sawn or split-and-adzed plank 'deals' - i.e. pine-type. That implies saw-pits etc of which there is no sign in the image though rafts of timber, as shown, in log-form or at least roughly sized was a standard way of both moving it down waterways or storing it temporarily (in the latter case they are often seen in 18th/ 19th c. images of the Thames for example). Overall I think the implication is 'loading' for removal but it is only a matter of opinion.
I'd like to see a source for the red and white stripes as a Hansa flag, simply because I don't recall it. As I have already mentioned the 'bull' on a blue/white ground on the stern of the vessel at left, and also possibly on the flag, might be a town emblem (which I couldn't find) or refer to the name of the ship.

In what is certainly the finest early Dutch marine 'ex voto' generally known - see here:

the emblem of a stag on the flag at the mainmast of the Dutch ship almost certainly names it as the 'Hert' (i.e. Hart). For the story that image tells -though unsupported by any as-yet discovered documentary evidence - just read the rest.

Louis Musgrove,

The funny thing is there are two other flags in this picture of dark blue/orange yellow./white. One is smaller aand the other way up to the flag of interest,and the other one is yellow/white/ black going downwards. And if this is 1650ish then a flag of horizontal red and white stripes-five of each- was also the flag of the English East India Company.
Adds to the mystery. Shrug of shoulders.

I originally floated this discussion six years ago to see if the flags or other emblems apparent here would yield any firmer (ie definite not speculative) information than the NMM already has. It's not greatly surprising that it hasn't so I think it can close when Marion is ready. I have already corrected aspects of the NMM description relating to the type of timber shown (i.e. not 'logs' as it previously said but already plank form). Many thanks for the suggestions made despite the fact they have not got us much further.