Set of 14 sixteenth century Breugel sailing ship prints. This engraving belongs to a series of prints known as the Sailing Vessels, executed by Frans Huys after designs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The series displays a wide range of sailing vessels, including merchantmen and warships, large seagoing vessels and small coasters, galleys, and caravels.

SKU SF001134 Category


In the first of the two examples here, Bruegel depicts a four masted ship, and two three masted ones anchored near a fortified island capped by a lighthouse. The detail and painstaking accuracy with which the vessels are rendered attests to the artist’s care and indicates that Bruegel may have prepared for the series by making numerous sketches and elaborate studies – none of which are extant.

In the second example, flying from the top of the foremast is a flag with the Burgundian or St Andrew’s cross, from the top of the mainmast a Portuguese flag with an armillary sphere, and from the head of the mizzenmast the flag of Porto. Armament of some 50 cannon and bundles of throwing spears in the tops proclaim the warlike nature of the vessel. Several members of the crew are mounting the shrouds as the four masted ship puts to sea from the roads of a town which could well be Antwerp.

As a mercantile superpower with direct access to the North Sea, and as home to some of the most ambitious traders and explorers in Europe, Antwerp took great pride in the prowess and engineering of their ships and in their connection to the sea. Whatever the precise source of their appeal, Bruegel’s series of Sailing Vessels was a highly sophisticated creation that far surpassed previous examples of the genre in technique and imagination.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder


Ink, Paper