Setting Sail: A Short History of Model Ships

Model ships are often associated with grand collections from the old world, usually found residing in a gentleman’s library or museum collection, under glass domes. The meticulous craft of ship modelling dates back to ancient times, with the advent of ship building itself, with examples discovered from ancient Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia, as well as 12th Century Europe. These ancient models were instrumental in archaeologists’ understanding of early seafaring methods and culture.

Historically, model ships were created as three-dimensional plans of the full-sized vessels. In Europe, scale model ships were used as votive representations of their larger counterparts and were blessed in religious ceremonies to protect the cargo and passengers. This superstitious practice continued well into the 19th Century.

A Maritime Model, Brick By Robin Port-louis
Scale 1:40
170cm Long

In the 20th Century, model ship assemblage became a popular pastime, and amateur model ship kits flooded onto the market. They became a common icon of childhoods past, alongside train sets and kites, and their intricate construction and undeniable charm keeps them popular today.

As part of our December 10th auction, we are pleased to present five meticulously detailed model ships, ranging from 105cm to over 2 metres in size. Each of these precision museum quality models was hand crafted in Seychelles by Robin Port-Louis and his master craftsmen from plans obtained from Le Musee de la Marine in Paris, and painstakingly built to museum specifications. Robin and his team spent between 3 weeks and 3 months creating each ship, with four craftsmen dedicated to one model at a time.

Astrolabe, the largest model, measures 216cm in length and is crafted after the original French Navy exploration ship of the early 19th Century. The ship of the same name is known for her travels with Jules Dumont d’Urville, an explorer, naval officer, keen botanist and cartographer, who ventured as far south as Antarctica on his explorations of Oceania. This model of Astrolabe boasts fourteen cannons and is crafted from various exotic woods such as Bois Noire, Bois Jeaunne, Bois De Rose, Bois Rouge and Bois De Fer.

We look forward to presenting these intricate models at our auction.

CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts

November 2020