Friday, 26 February 2010

mathew baker master shipwright 1530 - 1613


However, aside from its use of perspective, the artifice of Baker’s drawing can be more radically dismantled. Figure 3.2 shows a room with two men creating a perspective image, and might seem a possible source for Baker’s general motif. A closer comparison, looking not at the human figures but at the table on which they are working, shows that the connection is much stronger: Baker’s table is a direct copy from the engraving. This exact source is the final woodcut in Albrecht Dürer’s Underweysung der Messung (1525), a heavily-illustrated treatise on practical geometry directed specifically at painters. As will become clear later, there is independent evidence elsewhere in Baker’s Fragments that he knew and borrowed from Dürer’s text. But the point here is that Baker was deliberately and self-consciously assembling his identity as a shipwright and designer, pulling together elements from the prestigious artistry and mathematics of Dürer.

The Venetian Vettor Fausto commented in 1530 that
if knowledge of the architecture of buildings on land is so thoroughly difficult, what should I say about that of the sea, where everything is drawn out not by straight lines (which is an almost easy method) but by curves and variations repeatedly made to them?13

Stephen Johnston, ‘Making mathematical practice: gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England’ (Ph.D. Cambridge, 1994)

The decoration of the few major ship draughts is possibly the glory for which the whole work is celebrated. They are indeed finely worked, highly detailed, and some still glistening gold and silver. Others have beautiful, subtle colour washes. In most there is a riot of geometric pattern and scrollwork, even on mere merchantmen, and many display carved figures apart from the figureheads. There are numerous heraldic shields in Fragments, most notably as pavesses along the waists of the three galliasses, but also in the window of the shipwrights workroom (p8). None are identifiable, and so throw no light on the identity of Baker’s patron (if any), but several have marked similarities with the commonest form adopted for their arms by the London craft guilds - a chevron between three appropriate implements or products.

Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrighty Richard Barker

IV International Reunion for Nautical Science and Hydrography, Sagres 1983.

Published in Revista da Universidade de Coimbra, Vol XXXII, 1986, pp 161-178.

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