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The San Marco mosaic ship c. 1150 by Louie da fly - 1:75

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In the church of San Marco (Saint Mark's) in Venice is a series of mosaics celebrating the so-called "translation" of the body of Saint Mark from Alexandria to Venice, where he became the city's Patron Saint.


"According to legend, Saint Mark’s body was taken from Alexandria, Egypt, in 828. Two Venetian merchants travelling in Alexandria, obtained the relics of Saint Mark from Priests at the church of Saint Mark, where the saint’s body was interred. The Priests feared Saint Mark’s relics might be damaged or destroyed by the Saracens during the persecution of the Catholic community in Alexandria. Promising to safeguard the Saint’s relics, the merchants convinced the Priests to allow them  to return to Venice with the body of Saint Mark.

The body of Saint Mark was taken out of the sarcophagus and unwrapped from its silk shroud, the relic being substituted by another and less eminent Saint. It was then placed in a chest and taken on board the Venetian ship, the merchants first ensuring, that the Saint’s remains were covered by a layer of pork and cabbage. When the Muslim officials asked to inspect the chest, they cried out ‘Kanzir, kanzir’ (Oh horror) at the sight and smell of the pork. . . . Thus the Evangelist was safely conveyed to Venice but not before a number of miracles eased his passage across the Mediterranean.”


There are five mosaic panels showing the ship itself at various stages of the voyage. They are all very much the same - three masted, lateen rigged, with two side-rudders - but with minor variations in the shape of the aftercastle, the stempost, the line of the gunwale etc. Some of these variations don't make a lot of sense and I am going to have to reconcile them and come up with a version that I'm happy with.







This is a rather difficult ship to get a good concept of, but I was inspired by a couple of sketches on a Facebook forum by Wagdemar Lookomsky (I hope he doesn't mind me posting them here) which finally suggested a configuration for this ship that made sense. 







I'll be using these as a basis for my own reconstruction, but I won't be copying them exactly.


I will be basing the hull shape mainly on that of the 14th century Contarina ship which Woodrat has already used for his 14th century Venetian Round Ship (see https://modelshipworld.com/topic/17991-venetian-round-ship-13th-century-by-woodrat-132-scale-fully-framed-completed/ ) and I will be shamelessly copying much of his technique in building my own (though at a smaller scale).


However, this is at the research stage at the moment. First I want to get a lot more done on my Great Harry restoration, which as languished while I built my nef.


But this is a bit of a heads-up for those who are interested.




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Ok, first decision. The bow. Though Woodrat's similar ship has a bow like this:




 . . . which explains so many contemporary pictures where it looks mysteriously like this:


image.png.de87cf01f4666ad9f9f734ccfe9b9aa8.png   image.png.2ce3dbeba57d9ebe419ae4babc04f625.png 


 . . . on my own it is pretty obvious the bow is different. For example, see the above post and this detail:




The stempost in all examples curves back dramatically (there are slight variations in its configuration but whenever the stempost is visible the reverse curve is always there) and the bow seems to be fairly sharp. This bow shape is reinforced by the so-called Cocharelli Codex (Genoese, 1330-1340) which unusually shows several ships as seen from the front.




This plus the fact that they look remarkably similar to the San Marco ships despite them being almost 200 years apart, leads me to think that this shape co-existed with that shown on Woodrat's ship, and that this is how the bow should be configured.





Edited by Louie da fly
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12 hours ago, woodrat said:

I look forward to seeing your reconstruction of All the weaponry poking out of the sterncastle.😁


Yep - one of the issues I'm still trying to get my head around. :dancetl6:


But don't hold your breath. I don't expect to start on it until I've done a LOT more on the Great Harry - possibly even finish it. Maybe we could do parallel builds at the same time?



Edited by Louie da fly
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9 hours ago, woodrat said:

But comparisons are odious. Might be a good way to lose friends,too 😏


My feeling entirely. It's not supposed to be a competition.


I was going to put it on hold anyway, until I'd done a lot on Great Harry, or preferably finished it. In the meantime, there's plenty of research needed before  anybody can even think of making sawdust.



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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

As I mentioned before, there are five representations of the same ship on the walls of San Marco, in a sort of cartoon strip telling the story of Saint Mark's body being rescued from destruction and smuggled away to its current home in Venice.


The five depictions of the ship are very similar, but each one is slightly different from the others. To get a better handle on just what these differences are, and to get a "feel" for the ship itself, I took a leaf out of Björn Landström's book, by drawing them myself. But as we are now blessed with digital technology he had no access to in the 1960s, I was able to import the five mosaics into AutoCad and trace each one. Here they are:












Note that there are gaps in the tracings. These are where there are human figures obscuring the lines of the ship. 


All the ships have three masts, evidently lateen rigged, with what appear to be lanterns (or tops?) at the masthead. In the two pictures where the sails are spread they are decorated - onewith a red cross, the other with two quatrefoils (four-leafed flowers).


All are without a forecastle but wherever it's visible, the stempost curls backward.


All have a "sterncastle", but each one is different. All have some sort of "fretwork", but in some it's square, in others arched. In B and D (and perhaps in A) there is a strange downward extension at the aft end. I have no idea what it is.


All are shown with (usually two) side-rudders in the usual Mediterranean tradition, but the rudders are different shapes. E shows some sort of tackle for controlling the rudders, and has the larboard rudder swivelled upwards. B and D show only a single rudder, but I believe it was simply omitted from the mosaic, not that it represents the ship having a single rudder.


A, B and D show the rudder shaft going into the hull through a circular hole. This is mentioned in what is pretty much the definitive study of rudder evolution The Development of the Rudder A.D. 100-1600 - A Technological Tale by Lawrence V. Mott, but after discussion with Woodrat I've come to agree with him that this is not in fact a practical way of hanging a rudder and must be a result of artist's error. Probably the thing that finally convinced me was looking at the Cocharelli Codex again and discovering that though ships are shown with this feature in a side view, in a stern view it is evident that they are supported outside the hull, from the "sterncastle".


 1330-40 Cocharelli Codex Fall of Tripoli  BM Add MS 27695 f.5r detail 4 with circle.jpg


B, D and E have what might be described as cleats sticking up above the gunwales, and in the mosaics they have loops of rope belayed to them (see the second photo in my first post above, though the loops are a bit hard to see). Whereas A has a sort of "battlemented" side.


Two mosaics (C and E) show "wings" at the stern, a common feature of Mediterranean ships of this period.


I've used the Mezza Lune technique to work out the shape of the hull (thanks, Woodrat!). These calculations relate only to the floors - that is once the stempost and sternpost curve up from the keel it no longer applies, and you have to work out how to curve the hull inwards from there to the bow and stern. You can see on the plan view the lines that show the extent of the floors.




and the last pic shows how the frames line up with the hull in B.




Now I have to reconcile these five pictures and choose which features I'm going to go with - or perhaps choose a single mosaic and just go with that one.




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After a lot of thought I've decided I like the shape of mosaic 'B' the best. But that aftercastle just isn't quite right. I decided to get rid of the strange downward extension aft - as far as I can see that would make it very unseaworthy. But after removing it, it became obvious that the aftercastle itself extends too far aft past the end of the hull; it would unbalance the ship and make her wallow in the waves.


So, what to do? Well, with the Winchelsea nef, there were any number of variations shown in the town seals, which could each be correct for the individual ship shown, but if I wanted to do the Winchelsea ship I should duplicate it as shown on the seal to the best of my ability. But in the case of the San Marco ship, there were five mosaics, all somewhat different, but all supposedly of the exact same ship. 


I felt that in this case I was justified in merging the representations, or at least mixing and matching. To me it seemed that the stern overhang of the aftercastles of Mosaics A, C and E (see post # 20 above) was more believable. However, the one on mosaic E comes down below the gunwale, which is very rarely shown in other fairly contemporary ship pictures. I didn't want to do multiple arches (of which more later), so that took out A and C. What I settled on was keeping B's aftercastle but reducing the overhang, possibly sliding it little forward (to incorporate the handles of the side rudders) and shortening it overall.


Here's my side view (you can see how much overhang the aftercastle has - I will be reducing this)




Though there are many representations of aftercastles with solid walls I believe in this case they are made lattice-fashion rather than solid, as shown in the pictures below.  With an open poop deck like this, I don't think they were too concerned about protection from the weather.


image.png.5e75e9617694c62d5adbb219a3daa36b.png  image.png.0700a1411f8f429aa4ad53ee364771a3.png    image.png.bef192e94ba554a597cba01c56e5ec86.png


Or it might even have solid side walls but be open at the back, as this one seems to be.




Earlier in life I was a mediaeval re-enactor and as part of my activity I investigated the Weird and Wacky Weapons of the PBI* and in fact wrote an article about them (http://www.oocities.org/egfrothos/ and follow the "Arms and Armour" link). Most art in the middle ages was religious, and a fruitful source for the weapons of the common soldier is the many portrayals of the Betrayal of Christ, such as the one below in a 12th century manuscript in the Uffizi gallery in Florence - pretty much contemporary with the mosaics of the ship. Regarding the strange phenomenon of pointy things sticking out the back of the aftercastle, I believe these are pole-arms laid to rest. 





It's possible that the polearms are resting on the deck, but I think they would get in the way and it's more likely they are in a vertical rack against the side of the aftercastle (or probably both sides).


I've used the Libro di Navigar and Mezza Lune techniques as outlined in Woodrat's Round Ship build log


and come up with this - here's the cross-section at the master frame





I'm not sure if I'll be including through-beams. They're not shown in the mosaic, but that might just be an oversight by the mosaicist.


And front and rear views (side rudders not included on the rear view at the moment, and I might be narrowing the aftercastle somewhat. As the ship gets narrower towards the stern I don't think it needs to be this wide to allow enough room for the side-rudders).




I think the artist has shown the stempost  a bit exaggerated - here's how it looks with the sternpost and keel - it does look too big to me.




Compared to the curved stemposts in these 12th century ships from the Leaning tower of Pisa and in the fifth picture from the top in this post.




That's the current state of play. All comments and suggestions welcome.




* PBI - Poor Bloody Infantry - an Australian term from World War II

Edited by Louie da fly
Found a better pic of weird and wacky weapons
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That's a thought, Roger. It hadn't occurred to me and may well be the answer. If so, it (or they) wouldn't have been very wide and probably wouldn't have affected the vessel's trim all that much, and there might still be room for them to be fitted in even with a reduced overhang of the aftercastle.



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I've moved and shortened the aftercastle (poop?) and also narrowed it. So this is how it looks now (including a view from above). Though it looks like the aftercastle is now flush with the sides of the ship that's not really true, as the hull narrows there. I'm trying to balance having enough room for the side rudders with not making the castle too wide for good seakeeping.









I'd debated with myself whether to taper the aftercastle so it narrowed as it went aft - a trapezium rather than a rectangle - but looking at other mediaeval Mediterranean ships where you can see it in 3 dimensions (though unfortunately most are a couple of centuries later), they almost all seem to be rectangular (where they're not semi-circular or some other weird shape).


  image.png.39cb522224594759f8bb406edd7a5d9f.png      image.png.ef967a7f46838df2b79585ed8fb6bcb6.png



image.png.fea4c3c1add4891edfde87fd71f050f3.png      image.png.f9e78b8823ae45a4ae024f72e843b52d.png





And I've decided not to include the "thunderboxes" because I can't see them shown on any contemporary picture where you'd expect to them to be. Not to say they may not have existed, but I'd want to find more corroboration before I added something which is otherwise just speculative.





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  • 8 months later...

Look what I just found! It's from the church of Saint George Omorphokklesia in Athens (Galatsi). The episode of the torture of Saint George at the wheel is also narrated in Jacopo da Varagine's "Legend Aurea": .... The next day the prefect ordered that George be placed on a wheel surrounded by double-edged swords; but immediately the wheel broke and George was found unharmed....




But look at those sticky-out pointy things and then compare them with the ones on the mosaic ships in San Marco. Maybe this is how those things were stored - each shaft slid into a hole in a "cabinet" - it should work as well horizontally as vertically.




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Looks like I'm on a roll today. I just came across these photos of a Portuguese vessel under construction with a bow that is very reminiscent of many mediaeval Mediterranean ones, particularly those of the San Marco mosaics.








Could be of great use.



Edited by Louie da fly
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