That Christopher Columbus set sail in the Santa Maria, a carrack a mere 58 ft long, is nothing short of extraordinary. That the Polynesians sailed the Pacific on rafts guided by the stars and currents is nothing short of extraordinary. That Captain Bligh made the 3,618-nautical-mile voyage to Timor in a tiny launch without compass, chart or quadrant is nothing short of extraordinary.
What unites them is this: hope, hope that they will make land, that they will find a friendly shore, a safe harbour.
The ship has long been a Christian symbol (the barchetta) metaphorically tossed on a sea of sin. One thinks of Noah’s Ark during the Flood and Jesus protecting Peter's boat and the Apostles on the stormy Sea of Galilee. For the early, much-persecuted Christians it also held a secret meaning, for the masts form a cross.
Nor is it the Christian tradition alone in holding the ship to be symbolic of peculiar power. The Ancient Egyptians had their solar ships and scholarly opinion is divided as to what purpose they served. One hypothesis has it that they might have served as a solar barge, a vessel to carry the resurrected Pharaoh with the sun Ra across the heavens. Whatever they were for, it is plain they attached great ritual importance to them.
That they did so speaks to the enduring power of the ship qua symbol. I, too, have striven to draw upon the rich symbolism of ship and storm in this, my latest piece from the ‘Constellation series.’
Painstakingly drawn in pencil, this series has always been a test of patience on my part and this is no exception. My hope is that it will give you hope.
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