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ntmcd1

Skull decorations on ships: real or fake

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Everyone knows pirate ships flew the famous skull and crossbones, but was there any evidence of imagery of skulls or skeletons anywhere else on the ship?  You see stuff like that on fictional pirate ships all the time, like the one below.  The only example I've ever heard of something like this would be when the pirate Bartholomew Roberts captured the Governor of Martinique on his 52 gun ship and hanged him from the yardarm, and used the rotting body as a warning.  Must have been a scary thing to see!

 

Screenshots_Wide_Figurehead_1332_292598.

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One of the decorative elements on the tafferail of HMS Pegasus is a rather ghastly looking severed head - but with its flesh still attached, of course.

 

The head of HMS Antelope, 50-guns, of 1803 (Sir Sydney Smith's infamous command), shows the full figurehead of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, holding forth a dinner platter, atop of which rests an antlered skull, presumably of an Antelope. 

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Dutch shipbuilders sometimes used bocranium, an ancient Roman motif of cattle skulls in the early 17th century.  In Roman architecture, it meant cattle skulls sculpted into the frieze or upper stonework of temples or prominent buildings.

 

 When used on 17th century ships, skulls were probably carved wood, set at intervals along the aftercastle.  Here are two examples in Dutch art, one from a view of Amsterdam in 1606, the other of a ship in a stormy sea, around 1614.   

 

No human skulls or piratey bits though.  

bucranium .png

Edited by bearegalleon
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